Philippines complete Iraq pullout

Philippine troops have now left Iraq - to meet a demand by militants who threatened to kill a Filipino hostage.

The troops paid a final "exit call" to the Polish commander at their base in Hillah, south of Baghdad.

After lowering the Philippine flag at their headquarters, they crossed into Kuwait in a convoy of cars. They are expected to fly home to Manila soon.

There is still no news of Angelo de la Cruz, who faced execution if the troops did not leave by the end of July.

The Philippines began withdrawing its 51-strong force last week, after agreeing to the kidnappers' demands in order to save Mr de la Cruz's life.

The hostage's father said his family was overjoyed and had prayed for his release.

"I'm happy because they have pulled out and my son could now be freed," Feliciano de la Cruz Sr told the Associated Press news agency

"That would be a consolation for me and my village mates because we have been losing sleep."

'Good accomplishments'

The head of the Philippine force in Iraq, Commander Brig Gen Jovito Palparan, arrived back in the Philippines early on Monday morning.

He told reporters at Manila airport he was happy to be home, and said the Philippines had achieved "good accomplishments" in Iraq.

Gen Palparan's team have now turned over their humanitarian and civic projects to the Polish sector in Iraq.

While the Philippines only had several dozen soldiers in the country, about 4,000 civilians are still in Iraq, 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 AP 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."

19/07/2004

Bron : BBC News

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