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Philippines refuses Iraq kidnapper's demand
Updated: 2004-07-12 11:06

The Philippines will not meet a demand by hostage-takers to pull its troops from Iraq about a month ahead of schedule, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Delia Albert said Sunday.

Relatives and friends of kidnapped Filipino Angelo de la Cruz march while praying and demanding that the government withdraw its token 50-member humanitarian force in Iraq during a protest in Buenavista village in the Philippines' northern Pampanga province July 11, 2004. The Philippines refused on Sunday to bow to militants' demands for it to withdraw its troops in Iraq a month early, deepening the gloom for family and friends of the Filipino truck driver only hours away from an execution deadline. [Reuters]

The deadline set by the militants who abducted Angelo de la Cruz for the Philippines government to promise to withdraw its troops by July 20 passed Sunday without word on whether they had carried out their threat to behead their hostage.

The captors, who identified themselves as members of a group called the Khaled Bin Al-Walid Squadrons, part of the Islamic Army of Iraq, originally threatened to kill de la Cruz if Filipino troops did not leave Iraq by Saturday. They extended the deadline by 24 hours.

As part of the hostage negotiations, Manila will fly de la Cruz's wife and brother to Iraq with the Philippines labor secretary.

Undated handout picture of Filipino worker Angelo de la Cruz, who was kidnapped in Iraq. The family of the Filipino driver kidnapped in Iraq appealed to the government on July 9, 2004 to bring him home as diplomats tried to contact militants threatening to behead him unless Manila withdraws its forces. [Reuters]

There has been confusion about de la Cruz's fate. Before the captors announced the deadline extension Saturday, a top Philippines official had said the 46-year-old truck driver and father of eight was being released. Later, a Philippines diplomat in Iraq said that was not the case.

The Philippines announced Saturday that it would not extend the mandate for its 50-person humanitarian force, which will leave Iraq as scheduled August 20.

Albert said that decision was not directly related to the negotiations.

The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said Sunday that it had information indicating two of its citizens held hostage in Iraq were alive, though a reported deadline set by the kidnappers had passed.

The ministry identified the hostages as Ivailo Kepov and Georgi Lazov, and said they are truckers.

Militants have abducted drivers because they have been transporting goods to U.S.-led forces.

U.S. soldier killed

A U.S. soldier was killed and another wounded Sunday morning when their convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in northern Iraq south of Mosul, according to a news release from the Coalition Press Information Center.

The bomb also killed an Iraqi citizen who was driving behind the Task Force Olympia convoy, CPIC said.

As the wounded soldier was being treated after the explosion, a vehicle sped up to the scene and opened fire on the convoy, CPIC said. The soldiers returned fire, killing the driver. The attack happened about 87 miles (140 kilometers) south of Mosul.

Two other U.S. soldiers with the Army's 1st Infantry Division were killed Sunday and three wounded when an improvised explosive device struck their convoy near Samarra, the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement.

Two wounded soldiers "will be returned to duty," and the third is "being evaluated," the statement said.

The death brings the total among U.S. forces to 889 -- 665 killed in combat, 224 killed in nonhostile situations -- and increases the number of multinational fatalities since the start of the war to 1,007.

Marine being debriefed
U.S. Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, the 24-year-old translator who disappeared June 19 and resurfaced last week in Lebanon, was debriefed Saturday at a U.S. military base in Germany and may be back in the United States within days.

Hassoun had been listed as "captured" in Iraq after being seen on video blindfolded with a sword being held over his head.

A narrator on the tape said the captive would be killed if the United States did not free jailed Iraqis. There were conflicting reports on Hassoun's fate, including claims on Islamist Web sites that he had been beheaded.

It's unknown how Hassoun got to his family's home in Tripoli, about 500 miles (805 kilometers) away from where he was last seen at his unit's base in Iraq.

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