Filipino hostage in 'final plea'

A Filipino man kidnapped in Iraq has urged his government on video to withdraw its forces from the country.

Angelo de la Cruz, 46, was reportedly taken hostage while working as a truck driver for a Saudi Arabian firm.

Reports from Manila said he had been freed - after the Filipino president apparently confirmed his release.

But the group holding him denied that, telling the Al Jazeera TV channel he would be beheaded if the Philippines failed to pull out of Iraq.

"The Islamic Army of Iraq - Khalid bin al-Waleed Brigade" said in a statement on the Arabic channel that it was still holding its hostage, and giving "the Philippines government 24 hours to withdraw from Iraq".

Manila on Saturday re-stated its plan to withdraw its troops next month, but denies this is a response to the kidnapping.

Propaganda blow

The BBC's Peter Greste in Baghdad says the removal of the 51-strong contingent is unlikely to make any material difference to the 160,000-strong coalition force.

But, he says, the timing of the government announcement on the withdrawal of its forces - soon after Mr De la Cruz's video appeal - could be regarded as a propaganda blow for the US-led military presence in Iraq.

The BBC's Manila correspondent says the government may, in effect, be trying to tell the militants: "We're going anyway, so don't kill an innocent man."

Mr De la Cruz appeared alone in the video aired by Al-Jazeera television on Saturday, clad in an orange jumpsuit of the type worn by detainees in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Two other hostages beheaded recently in Iraq - the American Nick Berg and the South Korean Kim Sun-il - were pictured wearing similar jumpsuits.

Family plea

As well as calling for the Philippines' President, Gloria Arroyo, to withdraw her troops from Iraq, Mr De la Cruz urged compatriots and colleagues not to come to the country "because the Iraqi police cannot protect you".

An earlier video of Mr De la Cruz, shown on Wednesday, had him kneeling before a group of masked gunmen who read out their demand for a Filipino troop withdrawal within 72 hours.

The hostage's family has since pleaded with Ms Arroyo to respond to the kidnappers' demands.

Ms Arroyo ruled out an immediate withdrawal and prohibited any further visits to Iraq by Filipino nationals looking for work.

But on Saturday Philippines TV channel ANC said Mrs Arroyo had told a relative of Mr De la Cruz that he has been released and was on his way to a Baghdad hotel.


Bron : BBC News

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