Withdrawing Troops 'as Soon as Possible'
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Pleading for the life of a truck driver held hostage in Iraq, Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Rafael Seguis said the country would withdraw its troops "as soon as possible."
Seguis' appeal to the group holding Angelo dela Cruz, 46, was aired on Arab-language television network Al-Jazeera on Tuesday morning Iraq time. But he did not elaborate on whether the Philippines would push up their scheduled Aug. 20 pullout from Iraq, saying only the move would come according to the government's commitments.
It appeared the statement may have been deliberately ambiguous in a bid to save dela Cruz.
"I appeal to you and to your kind hearts as Muslims to please release Angelo dela Cruz so that he can return to his family and children," Sequis said from Baghdad.
Seguis spoke after the kidnappers issued a statement at that gave Manila until 3 p.m. EDT Monday to respond. That deadline passed with no indication on his fate.
The militant group, the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin Al-Waleed Corps had initially said they would kill dela Cruz by Sunday if the Philippines did not agree to pull out its 51-member peacekeeping force one month earlier than planned. Earlier on Monday, the Philippines announced that the kidnappers had extended their deadline to 3 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
But in a videotape and statement broadcast by Al-Jazeera, the group said it was only extending the deadline to 3 p.m. EDT Monday.
Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas had earlier expressed hope for dela Cruz's release as she visited Dubai, where she was accompanying his wife and brother as they traveled to Amman, Jordan.
"This is a time when hope and optimism are particularly important to all of us," she said. "The wife and brother of Angelo are in high spirits."
Dela Cruz's wife, Arsenia, said, "Let us not stop, let us not lose hope."
Dela Cruz was snatched Wednesday. The Philippines' announcement Saturday that it would pull out its 51-strong contingent on Aug. 20, when its current mandate ends, did not satisfy his captors, who issued a statement Sunday demanding the withdrawal be moved up to July 20.
In the videotape, dela Cruz, while pleading to be spared, also asked that his body be sent to the Philippines for burial should he be killed.
He appeared to wearing an orange garment similar to those worn by two other hostages who have been beheaded: American Nicholas Berg and South Korean Kim Sun-il
The militants' statement said they had done everything in their power to prove they had wanted to spare his life.
Recognizing the fine line that Manila was taking to obtain dela Cruz's release while remaining one of Washington's closest supporters, U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone earlier expressed support for Arroyo.
"It's a tough crisis and leaders are called upon in a crisis to do hard things, and she has stood up and she's shown a deep, deep care for this hostage but also careful of the country's long-term interests," he told ABS-CBN TV.
But Arroyo's handling of the crisis has also drawn criticism. About 400 protesters marched to the presidential palace Monday to demand the withdrawal of Filipino troops from Iraq, but were turned back by riot police using truncheons and shields.
Iraqi militants have repeatedly used terrorist attacks to try to force governments to withdraw from the U.S.-led occupation force.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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