By HRVOJE HRANJSKI / AP WRITER
MANILA — one of three Red Cross workers held by Muslim militants said she feared for her life after captors set a deadline to behead one of them and Philippine troops rejected a demand to pull out of southern jungles.
"Time is running out," Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba said in a cell phone interview with ABS-CBN television late Wednesday, as she appealed to the Philippine government to act quickly to end the 2 1/2-month-old hostage crisis.
Lacaba said she and her two European colleagues from the International Committee of the Red Cross—Swiss Andreas Notter and Italian Eugenio Vagni—were afraid for their lives "every minute, every second because we don't know when a firefight will suddenly start."
Their ordeal entered a critical stage this week after Abu Sayyaf commander Albader Parad threatened to behead one of the hostages if troops did not withdraw from the group's jungle strongold near Indanan town on Jolo island.
Jolo Gov. Abdusakur Tan said the militants told a government emissary that the deadline for the troops to withdraw to Jolo town, near Indanan, is Tuesday. But the military swiftly rejected the ultimatum, saying the gunmen could not be trusted.
The militants had already reneged on an earlier pledge to free a hostage last week after nearby troops complied with their initial demand to move back, said military chief Gen. Alexander Yano.
Parad, in the same interview with ABS-CBN television, repeated his earlier promise to free a hostage if troops pull back farther away—or behead one if they don't.
"They know I do what I say," he said.
Lacaba said the hostages heard bullets and explosions just above their heads last week after marine snipers fired at the militants trying to breach a loose military cordon, sparking two days of clashes that killed three marines and up to seven guerrillas.
The hostages were not harmed, but Parad later threatened to kill all of them if another clash erupted or if the military tried to rescue them.
Aside from Parad, who has been blamed for past kidnappings and beheadings, marine officials believe government forces have surrounded other Abu Sayyaf commanders and Indonesian militants they have been hunting for years.
The US government has offered an $80,000 reward for Parad's capture.
The Abu Sayyaf has about 400 gunmen and is on the US list of terrorist groups for its links to al-Qaida and involvement in kidnappings, beheadings and deadly bomb attacks.