Philippines hastens withdrawal from Iraq to save hostage

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The Independent Online

The Philippines said it would complete the withdrawal of its peace-keeping contingent from Iraq today in an apparent effort to save a Filipino hostage threatened with beheading by Iraqi insurgents.

The Philippines said it would complete the withdrawal of its peace-keeping contingent from Iraq today in an apparent effort to save a Filipino hostage threatened with beheading by Iraqi insurgents.

The group holding Angelo de la Cruz, a truck driver kidnapped on 7 July near Fallujah, had said that it would release him only if all Philippine peacekeepers were withdrawn by 20 July, but on Thursday extended the deadline to the end of July.

Delia Albert, Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, said in a statement yesterday that the 22 peace-keepers remaining from the original 51-strong deployment would make an "exit call" on the new Polish commander at Camp Charlie in Iraq's Babil province today.

They would be accompanied by Roy Cimatu, a special envoy of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo helping Filipino diplomats in Iraq secure Mr de la Cruz's release. "After the call, the remaining contingent will then proceed to Kuwait, and from there, return to Manila by commercial flight," Ms Albert said. The Philippine embassy in Kuwait was arranging their flight back to Manila, she said. Some Filipino peace-keepers who left Iraq are due home today.

A prominent left-wing group, Migrante, which had called for the pullout, welcomed the development. But it called on Ms Arroyo to withdraw support for the US-led invasion force to remove potential threats to about 4,000 Filipino contract workers in Iraq and more than 1.4 million Filipinos in the Middle East.

Manila's allies, including the US and Australia, criticised the Philippines' decision to withdraw its troops earlier than their scheduled 20 August departure. They said it would encourage more terrorist acts and endanger other members of the US-led coalition in Iraq. A US official said yesterday that Washington was re-evaluating ties with the Phillipines. "It's disappointing and it sends the wrong signal," he said.

Troubled by communist insurgents and Muslim extremist terror threats, the Philippines has been relying on Washington to provide training and weapons to its military to tackle al-Qa'ida-linked groups in the south. Last week, US officials said they remained committed to train and advise Filipino troops at Manila's request. But the pullout decision has raised questions whether Washington would be willing to maintain the same level of commitment.

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