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Abductors promise to release Filipino hostage
Updated: 2004-07-13 09:09

A source in the Philippine embassy in Baghdad said Monday that abductors holding a Filipino truck driver have promised to release him Tuesday. It was not clear how that message was conveyed.

The news came moments after the Philippine government said it would withdraw its 50-member humanitarian force from Iraq "as soon as possible" to save the life of Angelo de la Cruz, a 46-year-old father of eight.

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]
Earlier in the day, the abductors had extended by 24 hours a vow to behead de la Cruz if the Philippines did not agree to depart Iraq by July 20.

"In the name of the Filipino people and the name of humanity and the family of de la Cruz and his eight children, the government of the Philippines is pleading for his release," Deputy Foreign Minister Rafael Seguis told the Arabic-language television network Al-Jazeera.

The hostage-takers -- who have identified themselves as members of the Khaled Bin Al-Walid Squadrons, part of the Islamic Army of Iraq -- had issued several deadlines, only to shift them.

Earlier Monday, Al-Jazeera reported that the group said it had taken de la Cruz to the place where his "punishment" would be meted out.

"They offered him food and water," the network reported. "The hostage asked that his corpse be handed to his government, and he asked for one more day to allow him the chance of sending one last message to his president. The [kidnappers'] statement continued that the Islamic Army did its best to prove to the world it did everything it could to keep the hostage alive."

Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Delia Albert said Sunday that her government would not comply with the demand, a decision announced after a five-hour Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said Sunday it had information indicating two of its citizens being 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.

New U.N. envoy to Iraq named

The Pakistani ambassador to the United States has been chosen as the United Nations' top envoy for Iraq, U.N. officials said Monday.

Protesters light candles near the Presidential Palace in Manila Monday, July 12, 2004, to demand the pull out of the small Philippine contingent in Iraq to save the life of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz who was taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents. The insurgents, who earlier threatened to kill dela Cruz unless the government agrees to an early troop withdrawal from Iraq, have apparently extended the deadline until Tuesday. [Reuters]

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi's official title would be the U.N's special representative to Iraq, the title once held by Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the bombing of the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters August 19.

A U.N. official said the plan is for Qazi to be based in Baghdad, but only after security conditions are determined good enough. For the time being, U.N. operations for Iraq are based in Amman, Jordan.

The special representative will oversee U.N. activities in Iraq, which will include preparations for elections and for the selection of a National Assembly, development and reconstruction, and humanitarian activities.

Qazi has had a long diplomatic career. He has served as Pakistan's ambassador to the United States since September 2002. He was previously high commissioner of Pakistan to Indian, and ambassador to China, Russia, East Germany and Syria.

U.N. spokesman Marie Okabe said the world body expects Qazi to be released from his current post within two weeks, at which time he will go to U.N. headquarters in New York for briefings and consultations.

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