Captors of Filipino, Bulgarians prolong Iraq drama

BAGHDAD, Reuters

Kidnappers threatening to kill a Filipino and two Bulgarians in Iraq kept the hostages’ loved ones on tenterhooks on Monday, as Baghdad said security fears should not scare foreign workers away.

Militants had said they would kill Filipino driver Angelo de la Cruz on Sunday unless Manila vowed to bring its 51-strong contingent home by July 20, a month earlier than scheduled, but a Philippine official said the deadline had been extended.

“I think there are now new signals that the extension of the deadline has been given another 48-hour life,” Labour Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas said, without elaborating.

Bulgaria said it was still confident its two nationals were alive despite the passing of an execution deadline on Friday.

“We … have enough operational data which show that the two are alive and that the captors are receiving our messages through the Arabic satellite television Al Jazeera and the Bulgarian media,” Defense Minister Nikolai Svinarov said.

Four days ago kidnappers threatened to kill the Bulgarians within 24 hours unless the United States freed Iraqi prisoners.

Kidnap groups have won huge publicity in recent days and forced governments in Manila and Sofia to weigh their duties to U.S.-led forces in Iraq against the safety of the hostages.

Both countries have remained loyal to Washington, while doing their best to secure the release of the hostages.

Iraq said kidnappers should not be allowed to extract ransom or deter foreigners from working in the country. “We still ask foreign workers to come to Iraq and try to rebuild Iraq, but also to be very careful and cautious,” Mowaffaq Abboud, an adviser to Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, told a news conference.

“Still there are safe places for foreigners in Iraq,” he said, citing southern and northern provinces.

The hostage crisis is among many challenges for Iraq’s new interim government, pursuing a carrot-and-stick policy to curb an insurgency that grew during the 14-month U.S. occupation.

President Ghazi al-Yawar was quoted on Monday as saying the government would introduce an amnesty for rebels who have been fighting U.S.-led forces in Iraq within “a couple of days.”

He told the Financial Times the amnesty would be for “everybody except murderers, rapists and kidnappers.”