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Family of Hostage Held in Iraq Begs Philippines to Accept Militants' Demands - 2004-07-09

The family of a Philippine man abducted in Iraq is begging their government to secure his release. The militants holding the truck driver say they will murder him unless Philippine troops leave Iraq.

Angelo de la Cruz's family is asking President Gloria Arroyo to withdraw the troops and do whatever it takes to bring him home.

Government officials say they are doing all they can to free the 46-year-old father of eight, but the president has not discussed specifics. During a televised speech Friday she cautioned against speculation.

"I shall not comment about the situation at this most crucial and sensitive point in time when we have to withhold information on our moves to insure the safety of the hostage," the president said.

On Wednesday the Arabic news network al-Jazeera aired a video showing three armed men holding Mr. de la Cruz prisoner. They threatened to kill him within 72 hours unless the Philippines withdraws from Iraq.

Ms. Arroyo has barred Philippine civilians from traveling to Iraq for work and sent her top Middle East envoy, Roy Cimatu, to the region.

The president called another cabinet meeting as the government awaits word from Mr. Cimatu.

From Baghdad, a government spokesman said Thursday that lines of communications with the militants have already been established.

The U.S. embassy in Manila says it will not comment on the possibility of a Philippine troop withdrawal. But Ruth Urry, an embassy spokeswoman says they are doing everything they can to help the Philippine government free their citizen.

"We are in constant communication with our embassy in Baghdad ? between our diplomatic sources and representation we are constantly receiving and relaying the most updated information we can," she said.

The Philippines has about 50 soldiers in Iraq as part of a humanitarian mission. Manila has been a strong supporter of the United States in the war on terror.

Thousands of Philippine civilians have rushed to the region for lucrative jobs, despite security concerns. More than 3,000 Filipinos work on U.S. military bases as cooks or mechanics.

Islamic militants in Iraq have increasingly turned to kidnapping civilians to pressure foreign countries to remove their troops from the region.

Militants in Iraq kidnapped and beheaded a Korean translator and American engineer last month. They also have threatened to kill two Bulgarian hostages unless the United States releases all of its Iraqi prisoners.