Philippine troops 'leaving Iraq'

The Philippine government says it is organising withdrawal of troops from Iraq following a threat by kidnappers to kill their Filipino hostage.

In a statement, it said the defence and foreign affairs ministries were coordinating withdrawal - troop numbers had already dropped from 51 to 43.

Militants threatened to kill Angelo de la Cruz if Manila did not speed up its withdrawal, initially set for August.

US officials have expressed dismay at the Philippines decision.

Although the Philippine military presence in Iraq was small, Manila has been a staunch ally in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs is coordinating with the defence ministry for the withdrawal of troops," the Philippine government said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The headcount of the Philippine troops now in Baghdad is down from 51 to 43," the statement quoted Foreign Minister Delia Albert as saying.

But a government statement issued five days ago said the Philippine contingent then consisted of 43 soldiers, the BBC's John McLean in Manila points out.

That announcement came four days before the government said it was pulling its troops out of Iraq earlier than planned.

'Disappointed'

Truck driver Mr de la Cruz, a 46-year-old father of eight, was kidnapped on 7 July.

His captors called on Manila to withdraw its 51 peacekeeping troops by 20 July - one month ahead of their scheduled departure date.

At the weekend, the Philippine government said it would not give in to the militants' demands.

But on Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis told 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".

US state department's Richard Boucher said: "We are disappointed to see remarks like this at a time when Iraq is fighting for stability and peace."

A number of US officials expressed concern at the signal it would send to militant groups in Iraq.

"Our policy is not to negotiate or provide benefits to terrorists," said Mr Boucher.

"We think that sort of, that can send the wrong signal and that's why we're disappointed to see statements like that."

Australia joined the American criticism of Manila's decision.

"Countries cannot give into the demands of terrorists because we would all pay the price," said a statement from the office of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Mr Downer telephoned the Philippines ambassador in Canberra to express his concerns.

14/07/2004

Bron : BBC News

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