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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
Confusion over Philippine troops
A young relative of hostage Angelo de la Cruz kisses a picture of him
Relatives of Mr de la Cruz are waiting anxiously for news
Confusion is continuing over Manila's response to militants in Iraq who have threatened to behead a Filipino unless the country's troops are pulled out.

On Wednesday the government said it was organising a withdrawal, but military spokesmen on Thursday said personnel had not yet been ordered to leave.

Analysts are unclear how far the statements are deliberate obfuscation designed to buy more time.

The US State Department has expressed disappointment at plans for withdrawal.

Militants said they would behead Angelo de la Cruz unless the Philippine government committed to withdrawing troops from Iraq by 20 July, a month earlier than planned.

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"The Department of Foreign Affairs is co-ordinating with the defence ministry for the withdrawal of troops," the Philippine government said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The headcount of the Philippine troops now in Baghdad is down from 51 to 43," the statement quoted Foreign Minister Delia Albert as saying.

But the statement gave no timeframe, and it is unclear whether Manila is simply not replacing those on leave.

Air force spokesman Major Restituto Padilla said no order had yet been received and that two planes on standby to be used for evacuation of troops from Iraq were now on missions elsewhere in the archipelago.

Police Major Honorio Agnila, from the department in charge of deployment to Iraq, said officers there were continuing with their duties.

"They have not been given any orders (to leave) yet," he said.

Diplomats in Iraq have said they believe Mr de la Cruz is alive and well, but the presidential palace has imposed a news blackout, limiting details.

International pressure

The US has expressed disappointment at Manila's purported plans to withdraw its forces.

"In a time of test where enemies demand that you kneel... I just ask you please, don't confuse your enemies or your friends," said US Ambassador to the Philippines, Francis Ricciardone.

Although the Philippine military presence in Iraq has been small, the country has been a staunch ally in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The kidnappers' demand has put the Philippine government in an awkward dilemma - to save Mr de la Cruz or maintaining its close alliance with Washington.

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