Philippines troop offer in Iraq

A senior Philippines official has said his troops will leave Iraq "as soon as possible", as a deadline nears for the beheading of a Filipino hostage.

Militants holding Angelo de la Cruz say they will kill him if the Philippines does not speed up a planned withdrawal.

Manila's forces are due to leave by 20 August, but the militants have demanded their departure by 20 July.

The army said it was waiting for orders following comments by Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis on Arab TV.

Mr Seguis said - in remarks to al-Jazeera television - the troops would leave "swiftly, in the time it takes to carry out the necessary preparation for their return to the Philippines."

But he did not say how soon they would go.

"I hope the statement that I read will touch the heart of this group," added Mr Seguis, who is visiting Baghdad.

The BBC's John McLean in Manila says his statement appears to be purposely vague - intending to show the kidnappers their demand will be met, while indicating to the US they are not bowing to the demands of people regarded by both countries as terrorists.

Army spokesman Daniel Lucero told Reuters news agency they were waiting for word on whether to withdraw from Iraq earlier than scheduled.

"We have not had an order from any office regarding the pullout," he said. "We are prepared to implement our withdrawal plan."

The family of the 46-year-old truck driver said they hoped the latest reports were true, as people around the country held vigils to pray for his release.

Extended deadline

At the weekend, Philippines President Gloria Arroyo's government said it would not give in to the militants' demands.

The militants - who have appeared under a banner saying Islamic Army, Khaled bin al-Waleed corps - extended the deadline for killing Mr de la Cruz.

But on Monday, in a statement shown on al-Jazeera, they said the hostage was being prepared for execution.

The latest events are reported to have come as a shock to Mr de la Cruz's family, whose hopes were raised and then dashed on Saturday after false reports from Manila said he had been freed.

"I hope that what TV is reporting is true," said Beth Reyes, a sister. "We are already confused and don't want any wrong information like last Saturday."

The Philippines has only 51 soldiers in Iraq, although another 4,000 civilians are in the country, mainly working on contracts at US military bases.

Following the abduction of Mr de la Cruz last week, President Arroyo stopped any more Filipinos from going to Iraq.

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.

I hope that what TV is reporting is true

Beth Reyes
Mr de la Cruz's sister

13/07/2004

Bron : BBC News

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