Sep 132014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/06/09MANILA1324.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1324
2009-06-23 07:37
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME IMMEDIATE 0312
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA IMMEDIATE 2274
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001324

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/24/2019
TAGS: KISL MOPS PGOV PINR PTER RP
SUBJECT: SIX MONTHS LATER, RED CROSS HOSTAGE STILL HELD BY TERRORIST GROUP

REF: MANILA 985 (ICRC HOSTAGE: 100 DAYS AND COUNTING)

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney,
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Nearly six months after his January 15
kidnapping by the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group on Jolo Island,
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) worker
Eugenio Vagni remains captive despite recent aggressive
military operations that have tightened the cordon around Abu
Sayyaf members believed to be holding the Italian national in
the southwest of the island. Reliable reports earlier this
month indicated that Vagni is still alive, though likely
still suffering from a hernia and hypertension. The
Ambassador in a June 19 meeting assured the concerned ICRC
Head of Delegation that the U.S. would continue to provide
significant logistical support on the ground in Jolo, but
cautioned him that legal constraints limited the role of U.S.
forces on Philippine soil. The Ambassador and the ICRC
official agreed about the need to keep pressure on the
Philippine government to stay focused on Vagni’s safe
release, especially as senior officials become increasingly
distracted with other issues, such as campaigning for the
upcoming 2010 national elections. END SUMMARY.

HOSTAGE STILL IN CAPTIVITY
————————–

¶2. (C) International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
worker Eugenio Vagni, an Italian national, remains a hostage
of the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) almost six months
after his January 15 kidnapping on Jolo Island. Two fellow
ICRC workers also kidnapped alongside Vagni were later freed:
Filipina ICRC worker Mary Jean Lacaba was released on April
2, and Swiss national Andreas Notter was abandoned April 17
by his captors during a night move while under pressure from
government forces. The 62-year-old Vagni is believed to
still be suffering from a hernia and hypertension. In early
June, the Philippine government confirmed that Vagni was
still alive, but gave no indication about any change in the
state of his health. Regional police official Jose Gucela
speculated June 21 that Vagni would not be harmed by his
captors, as he was “the only leverage to prevent a full-scale
offensive.” However, Gucela admitted the government had no
contact from Vagni since a phone call to his wife in early
June.

ISOLATING THE ASG
—————–

¶3. (C) The Philippine military continues to conduct
successful pursuit operations against the ASG, isolating them
in a mountainous area in southwest Jolo and employing
“decisive engagements” rather than “attritional attacks,”
according to Philippine Marines Commandant Maj. Gen. Benjamin
Dolorfino. Another military official, anti-terrorism Task
Force Chief Maj. Gen. Juancho Sabban, offered assurances that
the military isolated Vagni’s captors — an ASG group led by
Abu Pula — in a fierce June 11 encounter with government
military forces and special police units. Sabban noted the
success of military operations in preventing the escape of
ASG leaders Albader Parad and Yasser Igassan to their home
territory near Patikul town, and in stopping ASG
reinforcements from reaching Vagni’s captors. On June 21,
press reports noted, another clash left four ASG members dead
and two soldiers injured, raising the total number of deaths
during rescue operations to eight for the military and 15 for
ASG.

LOSING CONTACT WITH VAGNI
————————-

¶4. (C) ICRC officials continue their public appeal to
Vagni’s captors for his immediate and unconditional release,
and are increasingly concerned they have lost contact with
Vagni since his June 12 phone call to his wife, who has been
brought by ICRC officials to an undisclosed location in Jolo
to be nearer to her husband. During a June 19 meeting with
ICRC Head of Delegation Jean-Daniel Tauxe, who sought
additional U.S. support to monitor the hostage situation, the
Ambassador assured Tauxe that the U.S. was already providing
significant logistical support on the ground in Jolo and

MANILA 00001324 002 OF 002

would continue to do so. However, the Ambassador cautioned
Tauxe that provisions in a U.S.-Philippine bilateral
agreement, as well as the Philippine Constitution,
specifically prohibited U.S. forces from participating in
combat operations on Philippine soil. Mindful of the
limitations on U.S. involvement, Tauxe expressed his sincere
appreciation to the Ambassador for the support provided by
U.S. forces and for their willingness to communicate with
ICRC officials in Jolo.

NO RANSOM PAID
————–

¶5. (C) At great length, Tauxe emphasized to the Ambassador
that the ICRC had not paid any ransom to the kidnappers.
Rumors and Philippine and foreign government assertions to
the contrary were false; Australian, Canadian, and French
officials had all accused the ICRC of succumbing to the ASG’s
demand for ransom, but Tauxe said the ICRC categorically
refuted those accusations. He implored the Ambassador to
help dispel these notions. The ICRC, he said, was also
certain that neither the Swiss government nor Interior and
Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno had paid any ransom,
as some observers of the hostage crisis had speculated. ICRC
officials were also “nearly 100 percent certain” that the
Italian government had not paid ransom — despite its
reputation for doing so in kidnapping situations. Those who
truly wanted to help Vagni, Tauxe concluded, would not be
willing to pay any amount. The Ambassador said she hoped
that the Italians had not paid; as an ally in the war on
terrorism, the Italian government would understand that
paying terrorists was counterproductive and could lead to
additional kidnappings.

GOVERNMENT MUST COORDINATE AND FOCUS
————————————

¶6. (C) Tauxe, who was confident that Vagni was still alive,
expressed his concern to the Ambassador about the lack of
coordination between the Philippine military and police,
which could complicate negotiations with the ASG as well as
any possible rescue operation. The Ambassador agreed that,
although communication among military and law enforcement
units on the ground was sometimes lacking, coordination at
senior levels of the Philippine government had improved in
recent weeks. The Philippine government, the Ambassador
noted, was capable of crafting and executing a viable rescue
strategy, but the government needed to focus on the task and
avoid distractions. Pressure on the government from all
sides, including from the ICRC, the Ambassador offered, would
be increasingly important to keep key leaders engaged,
especially with anticipated absences by presidential hopeful
Defense Secretary Teodoro and Secretary Puno, who was
planning personal travel to the U.S.

COMMENT
——-

¶7. (C) Tauxe’s visit to the Ambassador — his second since
the kidnapping, on top of his regular phone calls to the
Ambassador — reflects the ICRC’s growing concern and
frustration about the lack of progress six months into the
hostage situation, and is a sign that the ICRC does not yet
have full confidence in the ability of the Philippine
security forces to plan and conduct a successful rescue
operation. Sensing Tauxe’s unease about the situation, the
Ambassador assuaged some of his concerns by noting
improvements in the Philippine government’s coordination and
by offering continued U.S. support and vigilance. The
Ambassador further urged Tauxe to listen cautiously to rumors
circulating on Jolo about the ASG’s plans and Vagni’s
circumstances, since it is extremely difficult to discern
fact from fiction, and the motives of people who propagate
rumors are usually unknown.

KENNEY

   

 

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