Filipino driver's captors extend deadline

(CNN) -- Militants who took a Filipino man hostage in Iraq have extended their death-threat deadline by 24 hours, Philippines foreign affairs spokesman Gilberto Asuque said Sunday.

Asuque confirmed a report broadcast by the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera that the captors had given the Philippines until Sunday evening to meet their demands.

That word on the fate of Angelo de la Cruz came hours after a top Philippines official had said the 46-year-old truck driver was being released.

Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas said on television that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told de la Cruz's wife that he was on his way to a hotel in Baghdad.

De la Cruz's wife, Zeny de la Cruz, then spoke on Philippines national television, recounting her conversation with Arroyo. She said the president told her that he was being released.

Government officials said de la Cruz was in the custody of mediators and was expected to be turned over to the Philippines government. A presidential spokesman told CNN "we're very optimistic something positive will happen."

But a Philippines diplomat in Iraq said there was no concrete information that de la Cruz was about to be released.

And Al-Jazeera reported receiving a new statement from the kidnappers Saturday in which they extended the deadline and added a new demand: that the Philippines pull its small contingent of troops out of Iraq by July 20.

The captors, who have identified themselves as members of the Khaled Bin Al-Walid Squadrons, part of the Islamic Army of Iraq, originally had called for Philippines troops to leave the country.

The Philippines said it would be sticking to the schedule, under which its 50-strong humanitarian force will leave Iraq next month.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Delia Albert said the government's decision not to extend the mandate of the forces past an August 20 deadline was not directly related to the hostage negotiations.

"The decision has really been taken since the day we went to Iraq a year ago," Albert said. She also said the Philippines is prepared to repatriate all Filipino workers who want to return home.

The Philippines had previously said it would consider extending the mandate for troops in Iraq, as it did last year.

Albert also stressed that the Filipino forces are a "humanitarian contingent" and are not involved in fighting.

Al-Jazeera broadcast an apparent new plea from de la Cruz early Saturday, asking his country to withdraw its troops. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the videotape.

The Al-Jazeera reporter said the kidnappers allowed de la Cruz "to give a final message to the president of his country, Gloria Macapagal [Arroyo], and to his wife."

"To my colleagues in the Philippines company and all the Filipinos heading to Iraq, I advise you not to come to Iraq. And to President Arroyo, I beg you to withdraw the troops from Iraq," de la Cruz said on the tape.

De la Cruz and his wife have eight children, and his wife pleaded for his release in a news conference Friday in Manila with Arroyo.

"I am appealing to the whole world, to our Muslim brothers to please help us," said Zeny de la Cruz, according to a translation from Associated Press Television Network.

"Please do not hurt my husband. Please have mercy on my children, for he is their only hope."

Two Bulgarian truckers also have been kidnapped recently in Iraq. Militants have abducted drivers because they have been transporting goods to U.S.-led forces.

The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it believes the two hostages are still alive.

Marine being debriefed

U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Hassoun, the 24-year-old translator who disappeared June 19 and resurfaced this week in Lebanon, was being debriefed Saturday at a U.S. military base in Germany and may be back in the United States early next week.

Mohammed Hassoun, the Marine's brother, said from his home in West Jordan, Utah, that his brother told him by telephone Saturday morning he was being treated "very well" and was staying in a suite at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, also a U.S. facility.

Wassef Hassoun also said the debriefing was going well and that neither the FBI nor the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had given him any indication for concern, Mohammed Hassoun said.

Military officials want to know where Hassoun was and who he was with between his disappearance June 19 from the Marine camp outside Fallujah and his re-emergence Wednesday with his Lebanese family. (Full story)

Hassoun had been listed as "captured" in Iraq after being seen on video blindfolded with a sword being held over his head.

A narrator on the tape said the captive would be killed if the United States did not free jailed Iraqis. There were conflicting reports on Hassoun's fate, including claims on Islamist Web sites that he had been beheaded.

It's unknown how Hassoun got to his family's home in Tripoli, some 500 miles (805 kilometers) away from where he was last seen at his unit's base in Iraq


Bron : CNN

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