RP BAGHDAD EMBASSY STAYS OPEN

Manila, April 11, 2003 -- Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople announced that the Philippine embassy in Baghdad remained open throughout the siege of the Iraqi capital for Filipinos who might seek shelter there.

"Our embassy remains open and its inviolability as diplomatic premises is not dependent on the presence of Filipino diplomats," Ople told reporters. "It remains open for the Filipinos in Baghdad to seek refuge in or to obtain basic provisions from. This is particularly important at this time of transition in Baghdad."

He added: "I call on all sides to the hostilities to respect our diplomatic premises, which under international law remains inviolable even during times of war or armed conflict.

"The caretaker is reliable because he owns the property and he will protect his property."

Ople confirmed that the US embassy had informed his office that Iraqi paramilitary troops might operate or store military equipment near diplomatic premises in Baghdad. He said the US Embassy has indicated that the US military will continue to conduct operations against such paramilitary troops.

"We have received, however, the assurances of the US government that its forces will respect our diplomatic premises," he said. "These were assurances that were given us even before hostilities began. I hope that as military activities begin to wind down, the fortunes of war will spare our embassy."

Ople also said that before the attack on Iraq, the US government had consulted with the Philippines on the specific location of the Philippine embassy, bringing detailed satellite pictures of Baghdad for reference.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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