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Philippine Troops to Begin Iraq Pullout Despite Strong Opposition from Allies - 2004-07-16


A group of Philippine peacekeepers will start pulling out from Iraq Friday, despite strong opposition from Philippine allies. Manila hopes the move will save the life of a Filipino held hostage by Iraqi militants for more than week.

Foreign Secretary Delia Albert said Friday the head of her country's peacekeeping force in Iraq will be among those returning home.

"He is leaving Iraq today with 10 members of the Philippine humanitarian contingent," she said. "The rest of the members of the contingent will be out of Iraq shortly."

The move is aimed at saving the life of a Filipino hostage in Iraq. His captors threaten to execute Angelo de la Cruz if Manila does not pull all of its 51 peacekeepers out of Iraq.

On Wednesday, Manila vaguely announced it had begun sending troops home ahead of their August 20 scheduled departure date.

The decision has received wide support in the Philippines, but it has been sharply criticized by foreign allies.

On Thursday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Washington is disappointed.

"It does send the wrong signal to the terrorists," he said. "There is no negotiation with terrorists. There is no separate peace with terrorists."

The United States is a major investor and aid donor to the Philippines. Last year, President Bush granted a multi-million dollar military aid package to Manila to fight local terrorists. Some analysts say such support could now be in jeopardy.

On Thursday, the Arab satellite television network, al-Jazeera, reported the militants are giving Manila until the end of July to complete the withdrawal. It also showed a video of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz saying he would only be freed if Manila kept its word.

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