Philippines to end Iraq presence

The last contingent of Philippine troops are due to leave Iraq on Monday - meeting a demand by kidnappers holding a Filipino hostage.

Their commander Brig Gen Jovito Palparan came on ahead, in an apparent symbolic gesture of the country's seriousness about withdrawal.

He told reporters at Manila airport he was happy to be home.

There was no news on Angelo de la Cruz, who was threatened with execution if troops did not leave by end of July.

The Philippines' move has been branded "a bad precedent" by Iraq, and US officials have said ties with Manila were under review.

The remaining 22 peacekeepers - out of a total of 51 - were due to pay an "exit call" to the Polish commander at Camp Charlie, in Iraq's Babil province on Monday, said Foreign Secretary Delia Albert.

"After the call, the remaining contingent will then proceed to Kuwait and from there return to Manila by commercial flight."

'Good accomplishments'

The first troops left on Friday, ignoring calls by the US and other allies not to give in to militants.

Brig Gen Palparan arrived in Manila early on Monday.

"I am happy that I have arrived back in the Philippines," he told reporters.

"The men I left there are okay, they are preparing to return home."

He said the Philippines had achieved "good accomplishments" in Iraq, without commenting further.

While the Philippines has only several dozens soldiers in Iraq, about 4,000 civilians are in the country, mainly working on contracts at US military bases.

Difficult dilemma

Manila's decision has incurred the wrath of the US and other allies.

On Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a news conference in Baghdad: "We respect the Philippine government's decision but this came in response to demands from terrorist gangs."

He added: "This, in my view and the view of the Iraqi government, has set a bad precedent and sends the wrong messages."

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was jointly giving the news conference with Mr Zebari, agreed with him, but said it would not affect relations with the Philippines.

However, a US official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press news agency that Washington was reviewing ties with Manila because of the troop withdrawal.

"It's a new situation," the official was quoted as saying. "We have to re-evaluate our overall relationship."

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said: "I don't want to be harsh on a friend, but it is a mistake and it won't buy them immunity.

"It's a wretched state of affairs, but if you give in it won't stop it happening again."

The fate of Mr de la Cruz has gripped the Philippines since his kidnapping was first revealed.

The previously unknown group called Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin al-Waleed Corps demanded the withdrawal of troops by 20 July, a month earlier than Manila had planned, if Mr de la Cruz's life was to be spared.

The group on Thursday extended its deadline until the end of July.

19/07/2004

Bron : BBC News

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