Sun, Mar 13, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Filipino hostage's fate unknown as Iraqi insurgents talk

DEADLINE Robert Tarongoy is one of 6,000 Filipinos working on US military facilities in Iraq, and militants threaten to kill him if they don't leave

AP , MANILA

Suspected insurgents holding a Filipino hostage in Iraq have agreed to continue negotiations for his release as a deadline for his execution expired, a government spokesman said yesterday.

Philippine officials have appealed to the rebels to release Robert Tarongoy unharmed, stressing their government does not provide any support to American forces there.

"There was a stay in the execution," said Gilbert Asuque, spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

He said the insurgents had threatened to kill Tarongoy by 11pm Friday in Baghdad. The insurgents did not set a new deadline, he said.

Tarongoy's captors demanded the withdrawal of Filipino workers in Iraq and asked the Philippines to end military cooperation with Washington, officials said.

"We do not have any military involvement in Iraq. We do not have any soldier there," Asuque said.

"We are not sending any support -- logistics or security -- to US forces in Iraq. They [the Filipino workers] are there on their private initiative as employees," he said.

Officials say about 6,000 Filipinos work in US military camps in Iraq, mostly as maintenance workers and cooks.

Asuque also said the government's chief negotiator in Iraq, Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, is not discussing ransom with the insurgents.

He said the negotiations are being conducted through intermediaries -- community, ethnic and political leaders.

Tarongoy, an accountant for a Saudi company that does catering for the Iraqi army, was kidnapped on Nov. 1 along with American Roy Hallums from their office in Baghdad's Mansour district after a gunbattle which killed an Iraqi guard and an attacker.

A Nepalese and three Iraqis were also abducted but later freed.

On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said the Arabic al-Jazeera television network had obtained a video of Tarongoy, who appeared well but sought government help.

Diplomatic sources said Tarongoy wore an orange suit similar to those worn by past hostages before they were executed, mostly by beheading, by Iraqi insurgents.

A Filipino truck driver, Angelo de la Cruz, was freed last July 22 after being held hostage for about two weeks by Iraqi insurgents.

De la Cruz was released after the Philippine government granted the militants' demand for the early withdrawal of its small peacekeeping contingent from Iraq, a decision strongly criticized by the US and other allies but which won praise at home.

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