WASHINGTON — The Peace Corps is pulling its volunteers out of the Philippines to make sure they are not killed or kidnaped by Communist rebels, the agency said Wednesday.
"All of the volunteers are safe, and this is strictly a precautionary measure," Peace Corps Director Paul Coverdell said in a statement.
The agency suspended its program after learning that "Peace Corps volunteers may be among those targeted by the armed wing of the Communist Party," Coverdell said.
He added that the White House and the State Department were involved in the decision to recall the 261 volunteers, most of whom were working in remote rural areas with poor security.
For a month, Americans have been cautioned by the State Department to be careful traveling in the Philippines. But they have not been told to stay away, or to leave.
The Peace Corps volunteers are scheduled to leave today after a special send-off from Philippine President Corazon Aquino. They will fly to Hawaii to finish their service or discuss other assignments.
Coverdell stressed that the Philippine program is being suspended, not canceled, and said the agency's office in Manila will remain open.
The Philippine military said last week that rebels in Manila planned to target Americans and other foreigners for assassination and kidnaping in the next six months. The U.S. Embassy recalled all Peace Corps volunteers to Manila over the weekend after receiving a report that they had been added to the target list.
The rebels have made no specific public threats against the volunteers but have charged that U.S. and Japanese aid workers secretly assist the Philippine government in its counterinsurgency operations. Both the U.S. and Japanese governments deny the charges.
Peace Corps volunteers have been involved in education, environment, agriculture and community development projects throughout the main Philippine island, Luzon, and the central Visayas chain. They were recalled from the southern island of Mindanao in 1985 because of lawlessness and never returned.
Coverdell said more than 7,500 volunteers have served in the Philippines since 1961 when the Peace Corps was founded, making it one of the agency's oldest and most successful programs.