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Last Updated: Friday, 16 July, 2004, 19:34 GMT 20:34 UK
Philippines starts Iraq pullout
Protesters burn an American flag during a rally near the US Embassy in Manila
Many Filipinos support the decision to withdraw troops
Philippine troops have begun leaving Iraq, despite calls by the US and other allies not to give in to the demands of kidnappers holding a Filipino hostage.

Ten soldiers and their commander have left their base in Iraq for neighbouring Kuwait.

Foreign Secretary Delia Albert said the remainder of the Philippine contingent would be withdrawn "shortly".

The pull-out is part of efforts to secure the release of hostage Angelo de la Cruz.

The kidnappers had threatened to behead him if troops did not leave the country by the end of this month.

Top contributors:
US - 118,000
UK - 8,300
Italy - 2,800
Poland - 2,350
Ukraine - 1,550
Netherlands - 1,300
Australia - 850
Romania - 700
South Korea - 700
Japan - 500

Manila said earlier this week that it would comply with the kidnappers' demand and withdraw its 51 troops - although no timescale was specified until Friday's announcement.

The government said the soldiers who are now in Kuwait will continue to Manila on a commercial flight. A source at Manila's international airport said the soldiers would arrive on Monday.

"I am looking forward to meeting [the force's commander, Brigadier-General Jovito Palparan] and receiving his briefing on the final preparations for the return of the rest of the humanitarian contingent," Mrs Albert said in a statement.

While the Philippines has only several dozens soldiers in Iraq, about 4,000 civilians are in the country, mainly working on contracts at US military bases.

Difficult dilemma

As expected, Manila's decision has incurred the wrath of the US and other allies.

"I don't want to be harsh on a friend, but it is a mistake and it won't buy them immunity," said Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

"It's a wretched state of affairs, but if you give in it won't stop it happening again."

13 July: Bulgarian hostage beheaded
29 June: US soldier Keith Maupin reportedly killed (not confirmed)
22 June: South Korean translator Kim Sun-il beheaded
11 May: US businessman Nick Berg beheaded
14 April: Italian security guard Fabrizio Quattrocchi shot dead

White House spokesman Scott McClellan also condemned the move.

"It's disappointing to see a decision that sends the wrong signal to terrorists," he said.

The fate of Mr de la Cruz has gripped the Philippines since his kidnapping was first revealed.

Last week a previously unknown group called Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin al-Waleed Corps demanded the withdrawal of troops by 20 July, a month earlier than Manila had planned, if Mr de la Cruz's life was to be spared.

The group on Thursday extended its deadline until the end of July.

Body discovered

Meanwhile, Bulgaria is awaiting the identification of a headless body in an orange jumpsuit that was found in the Tigris River in Baghdad on Thursday.

Unconfirmed reports say it might be that of a Bulgarian truck driver who was killed by militants earlier this week. Bulgaria has asked for testing of fingerprints and DNA samples to identify the body.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg said information on the fate of the dead man's colleague was "unfavourable".

A militant group affiliated with Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened to kill the second hostage on Wednesday night if the US did not release Iraqi prisoners. There has been no news since that deadline expired.

Al-Jazeera received a video recording of the first Bulgarian hostage's death, but it decided not to broadcast the graphic sections of the tape.

The video showed the Bulgarian man wearing an orange jumpsuits, kneeling in front of three masked men dressed in black.

Reports suggest the Bulgarian man killed was Georgi Lazov, 30, who was seized in northern Iraq along with his colleague, Ivaylo Kepov, 32.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The government has been under pressure to get the hostage released"

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