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Manila Takes Charge of Efforts to Free Filipino Hostage in Iraq


The Philippines has initiated a campaign to try to gain the release of one of its citizens held hostage in Iraq. Manila is criticizing coalition forces and Iraq's interim government for not involving the Philippines in their efforts to free the man.

The Filipino accountant, 31-year-old Robert Tarongoy, was kidnapped in Baghdad Monday along with an American, a Nepalese and two Iraqi security guards.

The Iraqis were released earlier this week, and the Nepalese was reportedly released Friday. Only the American and Mr. Tarongoy are still being held.

On Friday Manila accused the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq of trying to prevent the Philippine government from getting involved in the effort to free the remaining hostages.

"The department has not received any information from the interim Iraqi government or the coalition forces in Iraq on the identity of the abductors or their demands," announced Gilberto Asuque, the Philippine foreign affairs spokesman.

Mr. Asugue says a crisis management team is now in Baghdad and working with the Philippine embassy there to locate Mr. Tarangoy and identify his captors.

This is the second time a Filipino worker has been kidnapped in Iraq. In July, a militant Islamic group held a truck driver for nearly three weeks.

Manila came under intense domestic political pressure to free the man, and following direct negotiations with the kidnappers, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo pulled the country's small military force out of Iraq. The hostage was later released.

Washington criticized the apparent quid pro quo in that case. This time around, the U.S. government has asked the Philippines not to negotiate with the kidnappers or interfere in American efforts to free the hostages.

Mr. Asugue would say only that the Philippine efforts would focus on protecting Mr. Tarongoy.

"The Philippine government has not and will never enter into any arrangement that will unduly prejudice the safety of Robert Tarongoy in Iraq," he said.

Friday morning, the abductee's wife made an emotional appeal for his release. She said her husband respects all Muslims, and pointed out that her government has no troops in Iraq.

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