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Manila says it will withdraw troops from Iraq

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posted on Jul, 12 2004 @ 10:08 PM
Manila says it will withdraw troops from Iraq
Philippines agrees to pullout ‘as soon as possible’

Philippine hostage Angelo dela Cruz begs his government to withdraw troops from Iraq in a video shown Saturday on Al-Jazeera.
MSNBC News Services
Updated: 10:37 p.m. ET July 12, 2004Philippine officials held an emergency meeting on Tuesday on saving a hostage in Iraq amid confusion after a senior official visiting the Middle East said troops there would leave, but the military said no such orders had been received.


Militants in Iraq are holding Philippine truck driver Angelo dela Cruz and are threatening to kill him unless the Philippines, an ally in the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, withdraws its troops.

The meeting at the foreign affairs department comes after Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station showed Philippine deputy foreign minister Rafael Seguis offering to withdraw Philippine forces “as soon as possible.”

Seguis gave no date for a withdrawal and most senior officials in Manila declined to comment.

“We have not received any order to withdraw,” army spokesman Daniel Lucero told Reuters in Manila, adding the army was waiting for an order from the president.

“It wouldn’t be in one go. It would be a gradual withdrawal,” he added.

CNN quoted Philippine officials whom it did not identify as saying they expected dela Cruz to be freed later in the day, but the report could not be confirmed.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government had previously said it would not change plans to withdraw its 50 soldiers, all working on humanitarian projects, as scheduled on August 20.

New deadline
Seguis’s statement followed a new deadline for truck driver dela Cruz also shown on al-Jazeera in which militants said he was being prepared for execution and would be killed unless Manila agreed to pull out its troops by July 20.

The latest deadline came as a shock for the family and friends who have been waiting and praying at de la Cruz’s house, after Philippine officials said on Monday that the militants had added 48 hours to a deadline of 1900 GMT (11 p.m. Baghdad time) on Sunday.

Philippine officials wrongly said that de la Cruz was close to release on Saturday, and relatives were not confident enough to celebrate after hearing Seguis’s offer.

“I hope that what TV is reporting is true,” said Beth Reyes, a sister of Angelo. “We are already confused and don’t want any wrong information like last Saturday.”

Chilling statement
The latest statement by the militants emphasized that they were in the final stages of preparing to execute the 46-year-old father of eight, who was abducted last week as he drove a fuel shipment into Iraq from Saudi Arabia.

The satellite channel said he had been moved “to the place of implementing the punishment and was given food and water.”

“He asked his body to be handed over to his country as well as another day to send his last message to his president,” Al Jazeera said, showing a letter it said it received from the group.

Manila sent its top Middle East envoy to Baghdad to negotiate for dela Cruz’s release, and the hostage’s wife flew to Jordan to make a televised appeal for his life.

Sources at the foreign affairs department in Manila said on Monday that the militants had rejected suggestions of a ransom in exchange for dela Cruz’s release.

Arroyo under pressure
Arroyo is facing heavy pressure to save dela Cruz, who comes from her home province.

Churches around the predominantly Roman Catholic country have held special masses to pray for dela Cruz, but protests have been small, with many seeming to recognize the government faces a tough choice.

Police broke up a protest by dozens of leftists in Manila on Monday, wounding one, as they approached the presidential palace.

Erik de Castro / Reuters
A protester shouted anti-government slogans last week during a rally outside the Foreign Affairs Department in Manila.

On a Manila street, taxi drivers lit candles on a roadside and prayed for dela Cruz. Television and radio stations in the predominantly Roman Catholic country broadcast appeals by Muslim and Christian leaders for his release.

A senior government official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that dela Cruz may now be in custody of another cell of the same group of militants that seized him.

He said government negotiators were trying to contact the kidnappers through intermediaries, including Pakistani officials in Baghdad who had secured the release of one of their citizens.

Hope for Bulgarian captives
Iraqi militants have repeatedly used terrorist attacks to try to force governments to withdraw from the U.S.-led occupation force.

In March, a series of terrorist bombings on commuter trains in Madrid shortly before national elections was believed to have contributed to a victory by the socialists, who had campaigned on a platform of withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. The new prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, pulled out the troops soon after taking office.

Militants also tried to pressure South Korea by kidnapping Kim in Iraq and demanding that Seoul drop plans to deploy 3,000 troops beginning in August. South Korea refused, and Kim was beheaded last month.

Bulgaria said, meanwhile, that it was still confident that two of its nationals were alive despite the passing of an execution deadline Friday.

“We ... have enough operational data which show that the two are alive and that the captors are receiving our messages through the Arabic satellite television Al Jazeera and the Bulgarian media,” Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said.

Kidnappers threatened to kill the Bulgarians within 24 hours unless the United States freed Iraqi prisoners.

President Bush spoke Sunday with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and received reassurances that Bulgaria’s troop commitment in the country remained strong despite the threats. Bush offered to assist but refused to negotiate with terrorists, the White House said.

Bulgaria has a 480-member infantry unit in Iraq that is under Polish command in the city of Karbala. Its main duties are patrolling the center of the city and guarding public buildings.

Five Bulgarian soldiers died in a suicide attack against their base in December; a sixth died in April in a skirmish with insurgents.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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