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Philippines Works to Free Hostage in Iraq - 2004-07-13


Government officials in the Philippines struggled throughout the day with the case of a Filipino civilian held hostage by Islamic militants in Iraq. As Angelo de la Cruz's family arrived in the Middle East, speculation mounted that Manila might give in to the kidnappers' demands.

The wife and brother of the 46-year-old hostage went to Jordan to appeal for his release, as President Gloria Arroyo's administration tried to resolve the situation.

A Philippine diplomat in Jordan, Arvic Arvelo, says efforts to free the hostage continue, but he warned the public against speculation. "We a re just letting the negotiators do their thing in Baghdad. Let us just let the negotiators do their thing in Baghdad," he said.

A militant group abducted the Philippine truck driver, a father of eight, last week. They have threatened to kill him unless Manila withdraws its 51-member military force from Iraq no later than July 20.

The troops are scheduled to leave August 20, and Manila previously said it would not consider changing that timetable. But in the past two days, the government's response has become confused. On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis told the al-Jazeera satellite news station that the Philippines would withdraw its troops as soon as preparations allowed. But he pointedly did not mention a specific date, and it remains unclear if Mr. Seguis was referring to a date other than August 20.

Foreign Minister Delia Albert confirmed Mr. Sequis's statement about preparations being made, but did not provide further clarification.

Philippine Senator and former armed forces chief of staff Rodulfo Biazon says the foreign minister's statement does not alter the military's timetable.

"As far as I am concerned and what I am hearing from the executive department, is that we will pull the troops as scheduled on August 20," said Rodulfo Biazon.

Military spokesman Colonel Daniel Lucero told VOA the army has not received any new orders, but refused additional comment.

The crisis has dominated the public agenda in the Philippines, and is being portrayed as a major test for the new administration of recently re-elected President Gloria Arroyo.

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