AUSSIE ENVOY SAYS HE UNDERSTANDS  GMA'S  PREDICAMENT IN IRAQ CRISIS

MANILA,  August 2, 2004
(STAR)
By Marvin Sy - Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has always understood the situation that faced President Arroyo when she pulled out the 51-man Philippine contingent from Iraq to save the life of truck driver Angelo de la Cruz.

Speaking over Australia’s ABC Radio, Downer said he has always been "very understanding" of Mrs. Arroyo’s decision, but that he was not given a chance to explain himself.

"No, I am understanding, don’t get me wrong," he said.

"We’re having a longer conversation about it, not just a grab on the TV news. I’m perfectly understanding of the dilemma she faced," he said.

Downer said he sympathized with Mrs. Arroyo in having to confront the hostage crisis, and that his previous statement only reflected the stand of the Australian government.

"We’ve had many back-channel discussions with both of these countries," he said referring to Spain and the Philippines, which both pulled out their forces from Iraq.

"They know perfectly well what our position is and what I’ve said in the last few days is nothing new. I’m relaxed about it (reactions from Madrid and Manila). There’ll be some controversy for a few days, and then the world will move on, as is always the case," he said.

Downer said Mrs. Arroyo’s decision can be likened to that of Sophie in the movie, "Sophie’s Choice," where the lead character was faced with a "diabolical" choice.

"I’d be the first to acknowledge the difficult situation she faced," he said. "I have to do what I can to protect the (Australian) people, and she has to do what she believes is right to protect hers."

"We have good and close relations with the Philippines, but our positions just don’t coincide. They usually do."

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the Philippines has asked its allies to move on and stop focusing on the pullout of the Philippine contingent.

"We learn lessons from every international controversy," he said. "It is time to move on."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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