RP pulls out 8 policemen

By Jerome Aning, Juliet Labog-Javellana and Norman Bordadora
Inquirer News Service

Token pullout

SCRAMBLING to buy time, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration Wednesday announced a token pullout of eight of 51 Filipino troops in Iraq. But the question remained -- was the gesture enough to save Angelo de la Cruz?

The announcement dismayed Ms Arroyo's foreign allies, led by the United States, but it drew applause from even some of her fiercest opponents -- the communist rebels.

"As of today, our headcount is down from 51 to 43," Foreign Secretary Delia Albert said in a brief statement.

"The Foreign Affairs Ministry is coordinating the pullout of the humanitarian contingent with the Ministry of National Defense," she also said, without elaborating, apparently in line with Malacaņang's earlier policy for a news blackout on the hostage crisis.

The announcement by the Arroyo government did not clarify when the pullout would be finished.

De la Cruz's captors said they would treat him like a prisoner of war if Manila made a good-faith move toward withdrawing early and would free him if the pullout was completed by July 20.

It was not immediately known what effect the announcement of a symbolic, partial pullout had, if any, on a band of shadowy Iraqi militants holding the Filipino truck driver.

The group had threatened to behead the 46-year-old father of eight if his government did not show proof that it would withdraw the entire Philippine contingent by July 20.

Roy Cimatu, the country's special envoy to the Middle East, said Philippine officials negotiating for his release had reported that De la Cruz was "alive and well," the Associated Press said.

"There's no risk of execution of Angelo de la Cruz," Cimatu told ABS-CBN television in Baghdad.

"He is safe and there is no more risk of him being executed," an unnamed Department of Foreign Affairs official told reporters, quoting another Philippine official in Baghdad close to the negotiations for the release of De la Cruz, according to Reuters. The official did not elaborate.

But at the DFA, officials continued to maintain their silence on De la Cruz's fate despite foreign news agency reports that he was in good hands.

One official, who asked not to be named, only confirmed Cimatu's statement that the truck driver was well.

He added that the government's decision to make an initial pullout was "apparently well-received" by the hostage-takers and regarded as a sign that Manila was indeed serious about its decision.

The Arabic television station Al-Jazeera said Tuesday it had received a message from De la Cruz's captors that he had been taken to an execution area and given food and water.

Albert did not say when the cut was made and police and military officials could not account for the eight personnel. A military spokesperson said no order to pull out had been received, Reuters said.

A police official from the department in charge of the Iraq deployment said the eight police officers had not moved from their base south of Baghdad, Reuters also said.

"They are still there," Maj. Honario Aguila told Reuters.

"They are waiting for a decision from higher-ups."

In a televised announcement, Vice President Noli de Castro appealed to people to have faith in the government's policy of not revealing the details of negotiations for De la Cruz's release, suggesting that his safety was not yet assured.

"Through your support and unity, we could resolve and settle this problem with dignity as a nation," the former newscaster said. "What is important now is the safety of Angelo."

15/07/2004

Bron : Inq7.net

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