Italy monitoring Sulu abduction, activates crisis unit

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2009 10:30 PM | Updated as of Jan 16 2009 08:29 AM

MANILA - Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Thursday that as soon as it has learned of the kidnapping of three personnel of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), including an Italian national, in the Philippines, the Ministry's crisis unit and the Italian Embassy in the Philippines were activated  to monitor developments.

The MFA, in a statement posted in their Web site, said that as soon as Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini learned of the abduction of Italian citizen Eugenio Vagni, Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jane Lacaba, he activated the Ministry's crisis unit.

The statement said the crisis unit is already in contact with the family of Vagni and is following the situation in close coordination with the Italian Embassy in Manila, Philippine authorities and Italian Red Cross.

Italy’s foreign ministry also said they are evaluating the circumstances around the abduction.

Swiss federal authorities have yet to release a statement regarding the abduction.

The ICRC office in Manila said the three were in a marked vehicle when they were stopped by gunmen close to the provincial jail.

The ICRC said the three were carrying out a water and sanitation project to improve the condition of detainees.

Lt. Gen Nelson Allaga, Philippine Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command chief, said the Red Cross team were scheduled to take a SeaAir flight to Zamboanga City when they were kidnapped.

Sen. Richard Gordon, the head of the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), said the three had just visited inmates in Patikul town when snatched by at least eight armed men near the provincial capitol around 11:30 a.m.

The victims were with ICRC medical field officer Dr. Richie Sorilla, senior field officer Ramon Catacutan and field officer Mohammad Shihata Jikiri.

Authorities said the kidnappers left the three field officers and took their cellular phones and personal belongings.

Allaga said the kidnappers used the ICRC team's vehicle for their getaway. He said the vehicle has been recovered by pursuing members of Task Force Comet, headed by Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban.

"The troops are in hot pursuit and the latest is they have already recovered the vehicle... They are now travelling on foot," the military official said. "They are exerting their best efforts to catch up with the abductors."

The military said the abductors were on their way to Barangay Bud Pula in Patikul town. With reports from abs-cbnNEWS.com and ABS-CBN Zamboanga