Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Philippine envoy to invetsigate Iraq kidnap reports

(AP) -- A Philippine special envoy is traveling to the Middle East to investigate allegations that a Kuwaiti contractor took Filipino workers to Iraq without their knowledge to build the U.S. Embassy, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Saturday. Special envoy Roy Cimatu was scheduled to arrive in Kuwait Sunday after testimonies last week before a Congressional probe revealed Filipino workers recruited by the First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co to work in Dubai were instead taken to Iraq without their consent, Foreign Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said in a telephone interview.
Two former employees of First Kuwaiti, John Owens and Rory J. Mayberry, testified before Congress that the foreign workers were mistreated. Owens, who worked as a general foreman for eight months, said foreign workers were packed in trailers, lacked shoes and gloves, and were required to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Mayberry, a medical technician, said there were 51 Filipinos on his flight to Baghdad but that all their tickets, and his own, said they were going to Dubai.
Mayberry said a First Kuwaiti manager told him not to tell the Filipinos they were being taken to Baghdad. "They had no idea they were being sent to do construction work on the U.S. Embassy," Mayberry said. "I believe these men were kidnapped." State Department officials say the embassy in Baghdad will be completed by September will cost about $592 million. The 104-acre compound will be the largest embassy in the world and a symbol of U.S. commitment to Iraq. There will be working space for about 1,000 people.
The Philippines' Department of Labor has reported that only 11 Filipinos were on that flight, with the rest of the workers coming from other countries, Conejos said. Five of the 11 Filipinos are still in Iraq, but six returned to the Philippines where officials are now tracking them down to get their statements, he added.
The Kuwaiti company earlier told Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Ricardo Endaya that the Filipinos agreed in writing to be sent to Iraq and were being treated well, Conejos said. "Ambassador Endaya said that is not the point," Conejos added. "Assuming its true, the point is they should not be allowed to go there because we have a ban on deployment to Iraq."
The Philippines banned its citizens from working in Iraq in July 2004, but up to 7,000 Filipinos remain, mostly working in construction, Conejos said. Howard Krongard, Inspector General of the U.S. State Department, last month dismissed allegations that foreign workers were mistreated in building the new complex in Baghdad. But he acknowledged that foreign recruiters may have misled foreign workers about pay expectations and living conditions. Conejos said depending on the results of his investigation, Cimatu may continue to Iraq, where the Philippines currently has no diplomats.

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