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Manila Halts Sending Workers to Iraq - 2004-07-08

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has suspended sending workers to Iraq after militants kidnapped a Filipino driver. The militants have threatened to kill the man unless Philippine troops withdraw from Iraq.

Philippine diplomats identified the captive as Angelo de la Cruz, a truck driver who was crossing Iraq from Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Gilberto Asuque speaking in Manila.

Mr. Asuque says the Philippine government will exert all efforts to help the captive.

President Gloria Arroyo called an emergency cabinet meeting and ordered the Labor Department to stop all Filipino workers going to Iraq. There are at least 4,000 Filipino workers already there.

Philippine Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas spoke to reporters after the meeting.

"Each and every Filipino feels very sad about this. This is a time for us to unite in prayer to be able to help toward the quick solution of this problem," she said.

The country's top envoy to the Middle East, Roy Cimatu, also appealed to Filipinos employed by contractors in Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to avoid driving cargo vehicles into Iraq.

The Arab television network Al Jazeera Wednesday, reported the kidnappers are demanding Philippine troops leave Iraq. They threatened to execute their captive within three days (72 hours) if Manila does not comply. The Philippines, a staunch supporter of Washington's war on terror, has about 50 soldiers and policemen in Iraq.

Last month, a South Korean translator was kidnapped and beheaded by a group seeking the withdrawal of South Korean troops from Iraq.

Thousands of Filipinos seek jobs in the Middle East to escape poverty at home. In May, four Filipino workers were killed in a mortar attack on a U.S. air base in northern Iraq.

President Arroyo has previously said Philippine troops will remain in Iraq for reconstruction work after Iraq regained sovereignty last month. But she also said security would be a prime consideration for their continued presence.