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Philippine Troops to Withdraw Monday in Bid to Save Hostage - 2004-07-18

The Philippines says it will complete the withdrawal of all its peacekeepers in Iraq by Monday.

Foreign Secretary Delia Albert says the remaining Filipino peacekeepers in Iraq are turning over their responsibilities as they prepare to leave the country on Monday.

From Manila, Foreign Affairs spokesman Gilberto Asuque explains the details of the departure.

"Ambassador Roy Cimatu will accompany them in an exit call on Monday morning," he said. "After the call, the remaining contingent will proceed to Kuwait and from there return to Manila by commercial flight."

There is no word yet on the fate of Angelo de la Cruz, the Filipino truck driver kidnapped by Iraqi militants more than a week ago. The militants threatened to execute Mr. de la Cruz if the small contingent of Philippine peacekeepers were not out of Iraq by the end of July, just weeks before their planned departure on August 20.

By agreeing to the militant's demands, Manila is being strongly criticized by the United States and other coalition members.

The Philippines has been a strong supporter of Washington's international war against terrorism. It sent 51 peacekeepers to Iraq following the fall of Saddam Hussein last year, but on Friday, Manila recalled the leader of its mission there along with 10 others. Eight others left earlier.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's action is winning praise at home, where the billions of dollars sent home from Filipino workers overseas, such as Mr. de la Cruz, prop up the national economy.

Despite the withdrawal of its peacekeeping mission, some 4,000 Filipino workers will remain in Iraq.