Kuwait calms Philippines after dead worker found in freezer

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Khalid Al Sabah walks toward a news conference in Kuwait City, Kuwait, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Members of the U.S.-led coalition fighting against the Islamic State group met Tuesday at Kuwait's Bayan Palace as American officials are pressing their partners to refocus efforts, overcome rivalries and concentrate on the eradication from Iraq and Syria of the extremist group. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

KUWAIT CITY — Kuwait's foreign minister tried to calm anger in the Philippines on Tuesday after a Filipina worker was found dead in a freezer, hoping to defuse an ordered "total ban" on workers coming to the small, oil-rich nation.

It's the latest case to draw the anger of populist Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who in January complained that cases of abuse reported by Filipina domestic workers "always" seem to be coming from Kuwait.

There have been prominent cases of abuse in the past, including an incident in December 2014 where a Kuwaiti's pet lions fatally mauled a Filipina maid.

But what pushed the Philippines over the edge appears to the killing of a domestic worker whose body was left in a freezer in a Kuwait City apartment reportedly abandoned since November 2016.

On Monday, the Philippines' Department of Labor and Employment issued an order calling for "a total ban on deployment of all overseas Filipino workers to Kuwait." It's unclear how widely the order is being enforced as many Filipinos are still working across industries in Kuwait.

Speaking to journalists Tuesday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah Khalid Al Sabah said "this escalation will not benefit the relationship between Kuwait and the Philippines." He also said Kuwait warmly welcomed Filipino workers.

"We have 170,000 Filipino nationals living a decent life here," the minister said. "They have one of the least number of problems out of all expatriate communities. Isolated incidents unfortunately happen. We share all of our findings and investigations with the Philippine authorities."

His comments also came as the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group announced the Philippines had joined it.

The Philippines' ambassador to Kuwait, Renato Villa, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he welcomed the Kuwaiti foreign minister's comments.

Kuwait has declared an amnesty for Filipino workers who overstayed their visas and are working to help some 500 workers stuck in the country after a company refused to pay their salaries, Villa said. Kuwaiti police also are offering details on Filipino killings to his diplomats.

Villa offered a much higher number of Filipino workers in Kuwait — 250,000 — and said 65 percent were domestic workers.

"They are the most vulnerable, the domestic workers," he said.

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Associated Press writer Malak Harb contributed to this report.

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