MANILA, Philippines — The scheduled release of two soldiers captured in February by communist rebels in Mindanao’s Socsksargen region had to be scrapped because continuing military and police operations endangered the lives of the captives, their families and third party facilitators, the New People’s Army said.
“A turnover program set for (Tuesday) was cancelled because continuing AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) operations put the safety of the POWs (prisoners of war), their families and third party facilitators at risk,” Jorge “Ka Oris” Madlos, the Mindanao-based spokesman of the NPA, said in a statement on Wednesday.
He said the NPA in the region had planned to free Sergeant Solaiman Calucop and Private First Class Samuel Garay, who were captured in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat on February 2, “in time for Easter” in accordance with the April 6 joint statement of the government and National Democratic Front of the Philippines peace panels at the conclusion of the fourth round of formal peace talks in the Netherlands.
In that statement, both parties agreed “to undertake measures necessary to effect the immediate, safe and expeditious release” of government security personnel captured by the rebels in Eastern Mindanao, “with the captives held in Socsksargen to be released before Easter and those in Bukidnon and Caraga (region) after Easter.”
However, Madlos said, “the AFP and PNP, however, have stubbornly refused to heed the clamor for their units to stand down and suspend offensive operations to provide the opportunity for such a turnover.”
“By ordering their troops to continue offensive operations, the officers of the AFP and PNP are exhibiting zero concern for the safety and welfare of their men who are in the custody of the NPA as well as for the third party facilitators who are helping arrange the release of the POWs,” Madlos said.
The NPA spokesman urged government to order its security forces to “stand down and suspend offensive operations in the areas to be identified by third party facilitators in order to pave the way for the safe and orderly release and turnover of the POWs.”