Militants free Filipino hostage

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A Filipino hostage held in Iraq has been released after Manila gave in to the kidnappers' demands and withdrew its troops from the country.

Truck driver Angelo de la Cruz -- abducted on July 7-- was turned over to the UAE Embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday, an embassy official said.

"He's here. He's with us. He's fine," the official said, adding that de la Cruz was was to be handed over to representatives of the Philippine government.

Speaking in Manila, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo described de la Cruz as a "hero."

"I just spoke to him. His health is good, his spirit is high and he sends his best wishes," she said in a televised address.

De la Cruz's release came a day after the Philippine government completed the pullout of its 51-member humanitarian contingent -- originally scheduled to leave Iraq by August 20.

Kidnappers had threatened to behead the 46-year-old father of eight if the Philippines did not withdraw its forces from Iraq.

Arroyo defended the government's decision to withdraw its troops.

"I made a decision to bring our troops home a few days early," she said, adding that the move was made to protect the millions of Philippine nationals working in the Middle East.

The withdrawal by the Philippine contingent -- small though it was -- is a blow to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, which was already weakened by Spain's pullout of its 1,300 troops following the deadly terror attacks on Madrid.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi last week said he had spoken to Arroyo and urged her to "reconsider" withdrawing forces because "we cannot give up to terrorism."

U.S. officials have also expressed dismay at the decision, saying it sent the wrong signal to terrorists.

For his part, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said "countries cannot give into the demands of terrorists because we would all pay the price."

CNN's Maria Ressa contributed to this report.

20/07/2004

Bron : CNN

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