European Union Affirms Support in Hostage Crisis; Solana Sees Erap, Other Officials
Cagahastian, Diego C., Manila Bulletin
An official of the European Union (EU) said yesterday the EU is satisfied with the Estrada administration's handling of the Jolo hostage crisis after he met with President Estrada and several Cabinet officials in Malacanang on the kidnaping problem in the South.
Minister Javier Solana, foreign affairs and security adviser of the EU, said his mission in the Philippines is to convey to the government the EU position of support and confidence regarding the hostage crisis in southern Philippines, where at least 19 out of 21 hostages belong to six nationalities, mostly European.
Solana, a former North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) secretary general, said he was personally briefed by President Estrada, Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado, and Foreign Affairs Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. on the situation in Jolo and the efforts of the Philippine government to resolve the crisis and save the hostages.
The Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf is still holding 21 hostages, 19 of whom are foreigners, on the island of Jolo in Sulu province, and another group of eight Filipino hostages on nearby Basilan island. The foreigners were seized from the resort island of Sipadan in Sabah, Malaysia last April 24 and were transferred to Jolo by boat.
"I am not here to advise President Estrada on what to do, or to pressure him on any course of action he should take on the hostage crisis. My mission is a peaceful and humanitarian one, and as a show of support for the way the Philippine leadership is handling the situation," said Solana.
Minister Solana was accompanied in Malacanang by the ambassadors to the Philippines of Finland, France, and Germany.
Solana also said the President assured him that the lives of the foreign hostages would be protected, even as the military conducts offensive operations in both Jolo and Basilan islands, where two groups of Abu Sayyaf hostages are being kept.
Solana also said President Estrada has expressed sympathy and concern on the particular case of Renate Wallert, a woman hostage from Germany, who is reportedly very sick and may have suffered a stroke.
In this connection, Executive Secretary Ronaldo Zamora said the government considers the case of Miss Wallert "a priority," and will work for her early release for humanitarian reasons.
Zamora also disclosed that a team from the Malaysian-based Red Crescent and the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) will leave early today for the mountain lair of the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo to try to bring food, water, clothes, and medicines for the 21 hostages being held by the Abu Sayyaf.
Zamora also discounted reports that Gov. Nur Misuari of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) who has been appointed the government's chief negotiator in the hostage situation, has been replaced.
He reiterated Malacanang's position that they would not want to give Misuari any deadline for his task, and would not undercut his efforts to secure the safe release of the hostages.
NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - European Union security and foreign policy adviser Javier Solana arrived yesterday morning, downplaying earlier reports that he is here to pressure the government to find a speedy solution to the deepening hostage situation in Basilan Mindanao.
Mr. Solana, who arrived aboard a German Airforce Airbus jet, was welcomed at the airport by ambassadors of the five nation members of the European Union, including the ambassador of the UE in Manila.
On hand to welcome Solana at the airport were German Ambassador Wolfgang Gottleman, French Ambassador Guilles Chouraqui, Finnish Ambassador Pertti Manahen, Spanish Ambassador Delfin Colome, Portuguese Ambassador Joao Brito Camara, and EU Ambassador Yves Gazzo.
In an interview with Solana, he said that as far as the EU is concerned, they are very much satisfied with the way President Estrada was handling the hostage crisis. …