Iraqi militants deny release of Filipino, extend deadline

(2ND UPDATE) THE IRAQI militant group holding Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz denied on Sunday that it had released the truck driver after reports he had been liberated late Saturday. In a statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera television, the group further threatened to kill De la Cruz unless Manila proved in 24 hours its intention to pull its troops out of Iraq."The group has extended its ultimatum to the Philippine government to withdraw its troops from Iraq for another 24 hours starting at 11:00 p.m. (1900 GMT) Saturday night Baghdad time," said the statement.
"This extension has been given to confirm the Philippine government's intentions to pull out its troops.

"The hostage will be executed unless the Philippine government carries out its promises," it warned.Malacaņang said it would make no further comment on the hostage situation until 12 noon Sunday, GMA Network's radio dzBB reported. The new deadline was set at 2 a.m. Monday, Manila time.

The group, calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq-Khaled Ibn al-Walid Brigade, said after the Philippine government proves its intentions, Angelo de la Cruz, 46, "will become a prisoner and will be treated the way prisoners are treated in Islam until the last Philippine soldier leaves Iraq no later than the 20th of this month."
A senior Philippine diplomat in Baghdad confirmed that De la Cruz, a truck driver abducted in Iraq as he entered from Saudi Arabia, has not been released, but said he was "optimistic" he would be freed.

"I have been told that he will be released tomorrow," the diplomat told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity.

A purported call from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to De la Cruz's family confirming the truck driver's release sparked jubilation among captive's townmates in Pampanga province.Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas confirmed the call and said De la Cruz was already on his way to an undisclosed hotel in Baghdad, citing unnamed sources from Iraq.But the celebration proved to be premature as the Iraqi militant group holding De la Cruz, the Khalid bin Waleed Corps of the Islamic Army, denied it had released the Filipino and reiterated its pull-out demand to the Philippine government.The pull-out should occur on or before July 20, the militants stressed, and not August 20, the scheduled departure of the 51-man Philippine humanitarian mission in Iraq.De La Cruz made a televised appeal over Al-Jazeera earlier Saturday for the Philippine government to withdraw its troops from Iraq hours before the lapse of the original ultimatum set at 2 a.m. Sunday (Manila time).

But Malaca&ntide;ang said it was standing firm on its decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq in August.

"Our humanitarian contingent is already scheduled to return on 20 August 2004," Ms Arroyo's spokesperson, Ignacio Bunye, said in a statement.

"Our future actions shall be guided by the United Nations Security Council decision as embodied in Resolution 1546, which defines the role of the UN and its member states in the future of Iraq,'' Bunye added. With a report from Juliet Labog-Javellana, Inquirer News Service


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