CAIRO, Egypt – The Philippines' top envoy on Sunday appealed to Iraqi militants for the release of a Filipino accountant kidnapped earlier this month in Baghdad (search).
Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, in an interview with Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera at its studios in Doha, Qatar (search), urged the kidnappers to allow Robert Tarongoy, 31, "return to his family."
Romulo called on the kidnappers to show mercy during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan (search), which is expected to end Saturday.
"At this time of Ramadan when we find in our hearts the value of life, and we can find forgiveness in our hearts ... we appeal for the release of Robert Tarongoy," the foreign secretary said.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq more than two months ago were alive "a few days ago."
Barnier said French officials were continuing their diplomatic efforts to free journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.
"We know they were alive a few days ago. I think they still are," the minister said in an interview on LCI television. "We are continuing to work toward their liberation."
Chesnot, Malbrunot and their Syrian driver, Mohamed al-Joundi, disappeared Aug. 20 while apparently driving toward Najaf, the holy Shiite city south of Baghdad.
The Islamic Army in Iraq has claimed responsibility, and demanded that France revoke its new law banning Islamic head scarves from state schools.
The law went into effect as planned at the start of the school year. A major diplomatic effort by the French government has failed so far to secure the journalists' release.
Tarongoy, the latest Philippine hostage, was among six people, including a Nepalese, an unidentified American and three Iraqis, abducted Nov. 1 by armed assailants who stormed the two-story compound of the company they worked for, the Riyadh-based Saudi Arabian Trading and Construction Co.
Al-Jazeera reported Friday that Tarongoy and the Nepalese man, Inus Dewari, had been freed. Philippine officials have been unable to confirm Tarongoy's release, but Nepalese authorities have said their countryman had been freed.
The American remains missing, while two of the Iraqi guards were released earlier.
Romulo has traveled to the Middle East hoping to secure the release of Tarongoy, the second Filipino to be abducted in Iraq since U.S.-led forces invaded the country in March, 2003.
Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz was freed July 22 after being held hostage for about two weeks by Iraqi insurgents.
De la Cruz was released after the Philippines government granted the militants' demand for the early withdrawal of a small Philippine peacekeeping contingent from Iraq, a decision strongly criticized by the United States and other allies. The move won high praise, however, in the Philippines.
Romulo said his country is urging its citizens not to travel to Iraq, a country where 4,000 Filipinos work at U.S. military bases, mostly as maintenance workers and cooks. Some 2,000 Filipinos have entered Iraq since a a ban on travel to the Arab country was imposed after de la Cruz's release.
"We are saying they should remain at home and not to go to Iraq for their safety," the foreign secretary said.
U.S. officials have urged the Philippines not to grant any concessions to Tarongoy's kidnappers, according to a Filipino official.