Hostage takers put pressure on Philippines

With the life of a kidnapped Filipino on the line, the Philippines sent out ambiguous and contradictory signals on Tuesday on the hostage takers’ key demand for an early withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

The Philippine official dealing with the hostage crisis, Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, went on Arabic television station Al-Jazeera on Monday to appeal for the life of father-of-eight Angelo de la Cruz.

He pledged the small contingent of Philippine troops will be withdrawn “as soon as possible”, suggesting a softening of the Philippine position but giving no firm timetable.

The kidnappers have demanded Manila pull out the troops by July 20, one month ahead of schedule. They have threatened to behead the hostage if the demand is not met.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Delia Albert later told reporters that Seguis “spoke with foreknowledge and full authority of the Philippine government”, but she declined to say whether the troops will be brought home early.

Earlier a senior official in Manila briefed reporters anonymously and insisted there has been no change to the government’s firm line not to pull out the troops before August 20.

“We maintain the same position,” said the senior official. “Until all the preparations are completed, that is the only time they are pulling out.”

Meanwhile, military spokesperson Colonel Daniel Lucero said a plan has already been drawn up for an early withdrawal of the contingent, but that no order has been given to proceed.

The hostage’s wife, Arsenia, and brother Jesus, were in Amman, Jordan, nervously waiting for results of the negotiations.
They were flown there by the Philippine government on Monday.

“We are just letting the negotiations take its due course until such time that we will have resolved the negotiations,” said Arvic Arevalo, a diplomat at the Philippine embassy in Amman.

Al-Jazeera said the hostage was taken, after the deadline expired on Monday, to “the place of his execution” where he was allowed to launch a final appeal to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.

An early pull-out would be an embarrassing reversal for Arroyo, who has repeatedly insisted that her government will not cave in to terrorism.

Just hours before the Philippine deputy foreign secretary’s comments to Al-Jazeera, the United States praised the Philippines for not bowing to the kidnappers’ demands.

“We applaud President Arroyo’s decision not to give in to terrorists and not to agree to an early withdrawal of Filipino forces,” State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher told reporters.

Former Philippines ambassador to Baghdad Reynaldo Parungao, who is advising the government on the crisis, warned of “repercussions” were the government to renege on its commitments in Iraq.

“Certainly we expect to be ostracised and eventually be treated like an international pariah that nobody wants to deal with,” he told ABS-CBN television.

However, Parungao expressed confidence the crisis will be resolved soon.

“This will be resolved very, very positively. It’s just a question of time.”—Sapa-AFP

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