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PIA Press Release

RP readies Mideast-wide contingency plan in Iran

Manila (4 April) -- The continued holding of the 15 British sailors in Iran has prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs to prepare a contingency plan for the estimated 1.5 to 1.8 million overseas Filipino workers in the Middle East, an official said.

In an interview, Esteban Conejos, DFA undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs, said that while there were only a handful of Filipinos in Iran (about 20 mostly married to Iranians), what was happening there and the reaction of the international community to the crisis has set off a possible expansion of the individual country's contingency plans to one that was region-wide.

He said the crisis in Iran "had repercussions in the entire region."

"My task is to make sure that these [individual country] plans are updated to withstand a new crisis that may arise. [The new plan] has to be coordinated because when we're talking of a regional threat, the contingency plans have to be regionally coordinated with each other," Conejos said.

The DFA official noted that aside from the alleged abduction of 15 British sailors, the United Nations Security on March 24 unanimously passed a resolution imposing new sanctions on Iran because of its refusal to suspend its uranium-enrichment program.

And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has rejected the new UN sanctions, calling them illegal. The IRNA, the state-run Iranian news agency, quoted the Iranian president as saying that his country's nuclear activities were legal and "based on the country's legal and inalienable rights" and that the program would "continue without hesitation."

The United States and other countries contend that Iran is using the project to develop nuclear weapons; Iran denies the claim.

On the issue of the British sailors, the United Kingdom has proposed to impose additional sanctions on Iran, Conejos said.

The UK is insisting that the British sailors have been abducted from Iraqi waters, while Iran says they were caught intruding into Iranian waters.

Last year, the Philippines evacuated about 6,000 OFWs from Lebanon when Israel bombed parts of the country in its fight with Hezbollah.

Conejos said his office was also monitoring the political instability in Lebanon, although he was hopeful that the Arab League initiative in Riyadh would resolve the stalemate.

"We are optimistic and we hope for the sake of everybody and of course in our case for our OFWs that this political stalemate can be settled," he said. (OPS) [top]

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