Militants free Filipino hostage
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A Filipino truck driver who was taken hostage in Iraq earlier this month has been freed after Manila fulfilled his kidnappers' demands, Philippine and United Arab Emirates officials said.
"I'm happy to announce that our long national vigil involving Angel [de] la Cruz is over. I thank the Lord Almighty for his blessings," Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said on national television after a five-minute phone call with the former hostage.
"His health is good, his spirits high and he sends best wishes to every Filipino for their thoughts and prayers."
De la Cruz, 46, was released on Tuesday, a day after the Philippine government completed the withdrawal of its 51-member humanitarian contingent in compliance with kidnappers' demands.
De la Cruz was first turned over to officials at the UAE Embassy in Baghdad before he was transferred to the Philippine Embassy. He will be flown to Abu Dhabi for a medical evaluation, a UAE government statement said.
Initial reports on de la Cruz's condition appeared promising.
"He's here. He's with us. He's fine," a UAE Embassy official said before the transfer.
Kidnappers had threatened to behead the father of eight children if the Philippines did not withdraw its forces from Iraq. De la Cruz was taken hostage July 7.
The Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera read a statement from the kidnappers last week, saying they would free de la Cruz when "the last Filipino leaves Iraq on a date that doesn't go beyond the end of this month."
The Philippine contingent was originally scheduled to leave Iraq by August 20.
On Monday, Philippine Foreign Secretary Delia Albert said: "The remaining 34 members of the Philippine Humanitarian Contingent in Iraq today concluded turning over their humanitarian and civic projects, and paid their farewell call on the commander of the Polish sector."
Manila recalled the head of its forces in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Jovito Talparan, along with 10 others, on Friday.
Ahead of the pullout, Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said he had spoken to Arroyo and urged her to "reconsider" withdrawing forces because "we cannot give up to terrorism."
U.S. officials also have expressed dismay at Manila's decision, saying it could spark further abductions by terrorists. (Full story)
CNN's Maria Ressa and Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.