Filipino Bid To Save Iraq Hostage

Protesters display placards as they march towards the Presidential Palace in Manila Monday, July 12, 2004, to demand that the government pull out the small Philippine contingent in Iraq to save the life of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz, who was taken hostage by Iraqi insurgents.
In a last-minute appeal to Iraqi insurgents threatening to kill a Filipino hostage, a Philippine official said Tuesday his country was willing to pull its troops from Iraq "as soon as possible." It wasn't clear if the desperate appeal saved the life of the hostage.

Insurgents have said they would kill truck driver Angelo dela Cruz, 46, by 3 a.m. Manila time (3 p.m. ET) if the Philippines did not agree to pull its 51-member peacekeeping force by July 20. The government on Monday restated that its troop commitment ended Aug. 20.

But Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Rafael Seguis, speaking on Arab TV Al-Jazeera early Tuesday, said the Philippines would pull its troops out "as soon as possible."

When questioned by the newscaster as to when that would be, he said a pullout would come according to the government's commitments.

It appeared the statement may have been deliberately ambiguous in a bid to save dela Cruz.

Seguis also made a heartfelt plea to the kidnappers.

On behalf of the Philippines and dela Cruz's family, Seguis said from Baghdad, "I appeal to your compassion and mercy for his release."

Seguis, who was in Baghdad working to get dela Cruz freed, said that Islam was a religion of peace and compassion.

"I appeal to you and to your kind hearts as Muslims to please release Angelo dela Cruz so that he can return to his family and children," he said.

In other recent developments:

  • France and Iraq have restored diplomatic relations that were severed 13 years ago during the Gulf War, the French Foreign Ministry said Monday. The two countries plan to exchange ambassadors "as soon as possible."
  • The U.S. Marine who mysteriously vanished in Iraq and reappeared in Lebanon nearly three weeks later is doing better in a U.S. military hospital in Germany and will likely return home within a few days, officials said Monday. Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun was being debriefed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center by intelligence specialists, psychologists, physicians and a Muslim chaplain, who were hoping to learn more of his ordeal, said Marine Corps Europe spokesman Maj. Tim Keefe by telephone from the hospital.
  • A hearing on procedural issues was postponed again for Army Private Lynndie England, who is accused of prisoner abuse in Iraq. England is accused of assault and taking and posing in photographs with naked prisoners. Monday's hearing was supposed to determine whether she should face a military trial. Civilian lawyers for England plan to ask a Fort Bragg judge to appoint a specific military lawyer to represent her, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Krasula.

    On Monday, the hostage takers had extended the deadline until 1900 GMT Monday.

    But dela Cruz's captors subsequently sent a tape to Al-Jazeera television which broadcast the new deadline demand late Monday and showed dela Cruz pleading with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to meet his kidnappers' demands. He also asked that his body be sent to the Philippines for burial should he be killed.

    National Security Adviser Norbeto Gonzales said by telephone early Tuesday that he had not heard of the new deadline.

    Labor Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas had earlier expressed hope for dela Cruz's release as she visited Dubai, where she was accompanying his wife and brother as they traveled to Amman, Jordan.

    "This is a time when hope and optimism are particularly important to all of us," she said. "The wife and brother of Angelo are in high spirits."

    Dela Cruz's wife, Arsenia, said, "Let us not stop, let us not lose hope."

    Dela Cruz was snatched Wednesday near the restive city of Fallujah. The Philippines' announcement Saturday that it would pull out its 51-strong contingent on Aug. 20, when its current mandate ends, did not satisfy his captors, who issued a statement Sunday demanding the withdrawal be moved up to July 20.

    In the Monday video, dela Cruz wore an orange garment similar to those worn by two other hostages who have been beheaded — American Nicholas Berg and South Korean Kim Sun-il.

    The militants' statement said they had done everything in their power to prove they had wanted to spare his life.

    Recognizing the fine line that Manila was taking to obtain dela Cruz's release while remaining one of Washington's closest supporters, U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone earlier expressed support for Arroyo.

    "It's a tough crisis and leaders are called upon in a crisis to do hard things, and she has stood up and she's shown a deep, deep care for this hostage but also careful of the country's long-term interests," he told ABS-CBN TV.

    But Arroyo's handling of the crisis has also drawn criticism. About 400 protesters marched to the presidential palace Monday to demand the withdrawal of Filipino troops from Iraq, but were turned back by riot police using truncheons and shields.

    Iraqi militants have repeatedly used terrorist attacks to try to force governments to withdraw from the U.S.-led occupation force.

    In March, a series of terrorist bombings on commuter trains in Madrid shortly before national elections was believed to have contributed to a victory by the socialists, who had campaigned on a platform of withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq. New Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero pulled out the troops soon after taking office.

    Militants also tried to pressure South Korea by kidnapping one of its citizens in Iraq and demanding that Seoul drop plans to deploy 3,000 troops beginning in August. South Korea refused, and the captive was beheaded last month.