Manila rejects Iraq captors' call

The Philippines has rejected a demand by kidnappers holding one of its citizens hostage to withdraw all its troops from Iraq by Sunday evening.

A government spokesman said Filipino troops would leave Iraq no earlier than 20 August, as originally scheduled.

Militants have threatened to behead their hostage, truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, unless their demands are met.

Meanwhile, two Bulgarian men kidnapped in Iraq are reportedly still alive despite the expiry of a deadline.

Plea for mercy

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said his government had unconfirmed information indicating that both men were still alive two days after a deadline for the kidnappers' demands had elapsed.

Insurgents with suspected ties to the Jordanian-born militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had broadcast a demand for all Iraqi detainees held by the US to be released by Friday evening if the Bulgarian truck drivers were to be spared.

Mr Pasi used his press conference on Sunday to ask the captors to be merciful towards Georgi Lazov and Ivaylo Kepov, both of whom are said to be ill.

Bulgaria has committed a 480-strong team of soldiers to the US-led coalition of foreign forces in Iraq.

Deadline questions

Confusion surrounds the conditions set for the release of Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz.

His family's hopes received a false boost on Saturday when reports were published that he was about to be freed - but the militants swiftly denied this.

They gave the Philippine government until Sunday evening to agree to the troop withdrawal - and a further deadline of 20 July for its soldiers to have left the country.

Propaganda blow

Pressure has been mounting on Filipino President Gloria Arroyo to secure the release of Mr De La Cruz, who has appeared twice in the past week in video recordings made by his captors and broadcast by Arab network Al-Jazeera.

The Philippine government re-iterated on Saturday that it was planning to bring home its 51-strong military contingent next month, when its one-year mandate expired.

Our correspondent says the timing of that announcement could be regarded as a propaganda blow for the US-led military presence in Iraq.

Separately, the kidnappers of an Egyptian truck driver in Iraq are said to be haggling over his ransom, according to the Saudi Arabian truck firm's manager.

It is not known exactly how many foreign workers and soldiers are being held as hostages in Iraq.

Governments and employers have sometimes been wary of releasing details to the media for fear of jeopardising negotiations with hostage-takers.

11/07/2004

Bron : BBC News

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