U.S., RP in long-term anti-terrorism pact


MANILA, AFP

The United States and the Philippines are to enter into a longer-term program of security cooperation against terrorism after a thousand-strong U.S. military contingent pulls out at the end of the month, a joint statement said Monday.

Under the six-month joint training exercise called Balikatan (shoulder to shoulder) that ends on July 31, a thousand U.S. military advisers were deployed in the southern Philippines to “train, advise and assist” Filipino troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group.

The two sides last week “discussed the transition from Balikatan 02-1 into a sustained program of security cooperation and counter-terrorism training and assistance,” the statement said.

The security cooperation talks were held in Honolulu by the Philippines military chief of staff General Roy Cimatu and the U.S. Pacific commander, Admiral Thomas Fargo.

U.S. troops participating in the sustained effort “will be used in number.”

“There will be some Special Forces (units), equipment will also be brought and U.S. helicopters will also be available. But there are no specific details yet,” Cimatu said.

He said U.S. military and defense officials were expected to meet with their Filipino counterparts later in the week “to discuss details of the next exercises.”

The controversial use of U.S. troops led to a public row between Philippines President Gloria Arroyo and Vice President Teofisto Guingona, the concurrent foreign secretary who had opposed the U.S. deployment.

Arroyo sacked Guingona last week but then recalled her order, agreeing to retain Guingona in her cabinet after the latter protested that he had not resigned.

Arroyo on Monday said Cimatu has been asked to present details of the security cooperation during a visit to the southern province of Davao del Norte.

She said the sustained anti-terrorism effort was due to continued calls by the public to have the exercises “more geographically spread out, unlike this Balikatan, which, upon my request had been concentrated in Basilan.”

Basilan is an Abu Sayyaf stronghold in the southern Philippines, where the gunmen had kept a U.S. couple hostage for more until troops caught up with them when they escaped to nearby province.

One of the hostages, U.S. Christian missionary Martin Burnham was killed in the rescue attempt, along with a Filipina hostage.

The joint statement said Cimatu and Fargo had “agreed upon sustainable plans which will be submitted to their respective governments for consideration.”

The allies also agreed on a 2003 schedule of activities that include “combined military exercises, exercise-related construction activities, personnel exchange and ship visits, security assistance activities, conferences, workshops and symposiums” as well as civic action projects.

The Abu Sayyaf is linked by the government to al Qaeda, the militant group allegedly the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.