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Iraq hostage freed after 7 months

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Philippines
Iraq
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Baghdad

MANILA, Philippines -- A Filipino citizen taken hostage in Iraq almost eight months ago has been released from captivity, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has said.

"Robert Tarongoy is finally coming home," Arroyo said in a written statement released to the news media Wednesday.

"Robert is now safe in the hands of the Iraq hostage crisis team led by Undersecretary Rafael Seguis who is making the necessary arrangements to bring him back to the Philippines," Arroyo said.

"Ivy Tarongoy, Robert's wife, told me she is overjoyed and deeply grateful for this good news."

Tarongoy was abducted by militants on November 1, 2004, from a villa in Baghdad owned by the Saudi company that employed him as an accountant.

Four of the workers were quickly freed, but the militant group is still believed to be holding American Roy Hallums.

The Philippines government, whose diplomatic team in Iraq has been talking to the captors through mediators, said in March the abductors had indefinitely extended a deadline for Tarongoy's execution.

Media said the abductors had demanded that Manila pull out the more than 6,000 Filipino workers in Iraq and stop supporting the U.S. military presence there.

There were also reports that the kidnappers had demanded a $10 million ransom.

Most of those abducted in Iraq -- the scores of foreigners and the thousands of Iraqis who have also been taken -- are seized by criminal gangs who sell them on to militant groups who then make political demands or ask for ransoms.

Philippine foreign affairs undersecretary Jose Brillantes said Tarongoy, who was 31 when he was abducted, was in "relatively" good health considering his long captivity.

"We are arranging for his return to the country. He will undergo a medical exam as a consequence of nearly eight months in captivity," Brillantes said, according to Reuters.

Manila withdrew its small humanitarian force out of Iraq last July against Washington's wishes, bowing to the demands of abductors threatening to kill Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

That case caused a media frenzy in the Philippines and put Arroyo under intense pressure.

Despite a ban on workers going to Iraq imposed after de la Cruz's abduction, Filipinos escaping poverty continue to seek work there, mostly on U.S. military bases.

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