The family and relatives of Robert Tarongoy heaved a sigh of relief after Philippine diplomats told them that the captive had not been executed when his captors' reported deadline for the government to heed political demands passed early on Saturday.

 

"Thank God," said younger brother Eugene Tarongoy. "It's like a thorn from our side was removed. Let's pray that the kidnappers will free my brother."

 

He said Tarongoy's family and relatives had not slept as they waited anxiously for news from a team of Filipino diplomats in Baghdad working for the accountant's safe recovery.

 

"We got the good news from Ambassador [Rafael] Seguis who called up my sister-in-law half an hour after the 4am deadline passed," he said.

 

President Gloria Arroyo had faced pressure on Friday to give in to captors in Iraq for the second time in less than a year.

 

The Foreign Ministry had declined to comment on media reports that the abductors threatened to kill Tarongoy in four days from 7 March unless Manila pulled more than 6000 Filipino workers out of Iraq and stopped supporting the US military presence there.

 

'Positive development'

 

The ministry learned from its negotiating team in Baghdad that Tarongoy, who was captured on 1 November, had not been executed on Saturday.

 

Arroyo has faced pressure to
give in to Iraq captors' demands

"It's a positive development," said spokesman Gilbert Asuque. "It could be a sign that Tarongoy's captors realised that we have complied with their demands."

 

He said the Philippines had no military presence in Iraq and did not actively provide security and logistics support to US military forces there.

 

"We maintained that there's a ban on labour deployment in Iraq and we are willing to repatriate Filipino workers who wanted to return home," he said.

 

Manila pulled 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.

 

Appeal for calm

 

Iraq's religious leaders called for calm amid fears of revenge attacks two days after a bomber killed 47 Iraqis and wounded more than 80 in a crowded Shia funeral tent in Mosul.

 

"It was a terrorist attack meant to spark civil war, but I think the Sunnis and Shiites will not succumb"

Nur al-Din Hayali, Islamic Party

Sunni Muslim leaders, fearful of reprisals, urged calm in the city, Iraq's third largest and one of its most ethnically and religiously diverse, on Friday.

 

"It was a terrorist attack meant to spark civil war, but I think the Sunnis and Shiites will not succumb," said Nur al-Din Hayali, a spokesman for the Islamic Party.

 

Iraq's Shia clerics also urged cool heads after the attack.

 

US soldier killed

 

A US soldier was killed during operations west of the Iraqi capital, the military said on Saturday.

 

The soldier, assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, died on Friday "in a non-hostile accident" in al-Anbar province, the military said in a statement.

 

The military said it was investigating the death but gave no other details.