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Philippines Troops to Remain in Iraq, Despite Hostage Plea - 2004-07-10

The Philippine government says its small force will remain in Iraq until mid-August, its long-planned departure date. This comes as a Filipino worker taken in hostage in Iraq pleads for his life.

The spokesman for the Philippine Foreign Affairs Ministry says after the current troop contingent leaves in August, future missions to Iraq will depend on requests from the United Nations and the Iraqi government.

The Philippines has 51 soldiers in Iraq performing humanitarian work. They have long been expected to leave on August 20.

Militants who have kidnapped Philippine citizen Angelo de la Cruz in Iraq are threatening to kill him unless Manila removes its troops immediately. The Arabic television station al-Jazeera has broadcast a video of Mr. de la Cruz pleading his government to save his life by pulling out the troops.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Gilberto Asuque says the government is working hard to free Mr. de la Cruz and make sure the thousands of Filipinos working in Iraq are safe.

"We have our delegation already in Baghdad holding discussions with Iraqi officials on ways to seek the release of Mr. Angelo de la Cruz," he said.

President Gloria Arroyo has halted all departures of workers bound for Iraq, but there are about 4,000, most working for U.S. military or U.N. agencies. Several thousand others are working in neighboring countries and cross into Iraq.

Mr. Asuque says the government is urging all Filipinos in Iraq to stay in the bases and facilities where they work. He says the government will arrange to repatriate any workers who want to leave.

A prominent politician and frequent critic of the Arroyo government, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, says Manila should not consider pulling the troops out early.

"I think that we have to stand by our commitment to the U.N. to help rebuild Iraq," said Senator Pimentel.

Senator Pimentel says other ways must be found to rescue Mr. de la Cruz, and that removing the troops early might encourage more kidnappings.