18 Apr 2009

Islamic rebels free Red Cross worker

3:19 pm on 18 April 2009

A Swiss Red Cross worker has been freed by Islamic rebels in the Philippines, after being held for three months.

Andreas Notter was freed unharmed on Saturday on the southern island of Jolo, and was being given a medical check-up, Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said.

Another hostage, Mary Jean Lacaba, was freed a fortnight ago.

Abu Sayyaf rebels seized three Red Cross workers on 15 January after they visited a local prison and are still holding an Italian, Eugenio Vagni.

The Abu Sayyaf militants had threatened to behead one of the hostages unless all military operations against them were halted and troops withdrew from the area.

At least 800 soldiers of 1,000 pulled back on Jolo island before the rebels' deadline of 31 March, but the government refused to withdraw completely, saying that doing so would leave the island's civilian population exposed to militant attacks.

Abu Sayyaf, which has links to al-Qaeda militants, is notorious for kidnappings and terror attacks and has a history of beheading captives.

An American, Guillermo Sobero, was killed in 2001 after the government turned down attempts by the rebels to negotiate for hostages on the nearby island of Basilan.