Manila 'has given in to terrorism'

By Sebastien Berger

The Philippines was condemned by its closest allies for appearing to surrender to terrorist blackmail yesterday, when it announced that it would withdraw its troops from Iraq to save the life of a kidnapped lorry driver.

The decision was welcomed by the family of Angelo de la Cruz, a father of eight, but condemned by America and other coalition members. Commentators in Manila said it made every Filipino a target.

Mr de la Cruz's Islamic militant captors had threatened to behead him unless the 51 Philippine personnel in Iraq were pulled out by July 20, a month ahead of schedule.

Delia Albert, the foreign secretary of the Philippines, said: "The department of foreign affairs is co-ordinating with the defence ministry the withdrawal of troops.

"The head count of Philippine troops now in Baghdad, from 51, is 43."

It was not clear when the cut - if any - was made, as there are eight Filipino police in Iraq as well as 43 soldiers, and it is possible Manila is playing for time. The foreign minister did not give details of the withdrawal, or a date, and a military spokesman said no order to pull out had been received.

An official said the eight policemen had not left their base south of Baghdad.

Richard Boucher, the US State Department spokesman, said shortly before the withdrawal announcement that any pullout "sends the wrong message".

Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, told the Philippine ambassador in Canberra that he was "extremely disappointed".

Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo the Philippines, a key US ally, has generally taken a tough stance on terrorism, launching offensives against the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping group, which is linked to al-Qa'eda.

But Left-wing groups have staged marches against her policies and Masses have been held across the mainly Roman Catholic country to pray for Mr de la Cruz, 46.

15/07/2004

Bron : The Telegraph

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