MANILA US wants to stay in south Philip­pines

The Myanmar Times - - World -

THE United States wants to re­main in­volved in the cam­paign to quell Is­lamic mil­i­tancy in the south­ern Philip­pines, its am­bas­sador to Manila said yes­ter­day, af­ter Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte threat­ened to kick out Amer­i­can forces.

Am­bas­sador Philip Gold­berg said the se­cu­rity threat in the con­flict­plagued re­gion was “very se­ri­ous”, warn­ing the Is­lamic State group was among a num­ber of for­eign mil­i­tant or­gan­i­sa­tions try­ing to in­crease its in­volve­ment there.

“We’ve helped the Philip­pines as it has re­duced the threat,” Mr Gold­berg told ABS-CBN tele­vi­sion.

“But we are con­cerned ob­vi­ously about any new in­tru­sion of ISIS [Is­lamic State group] or any other group that wants to take ad­van­tage of open space in the south of the Philip­pines. So we want to con­tinue do­ing that.”

The United States had de­ployed from 2002 to 2014 a ro­tat­ing force of about 600 troops to the south­ern Philip­pines to train lo­cal sol­diers in how to com­bat Is­lamic mil­i­tants.

The pres­ence was scaled down af­ter the United States deemed the mil­i­tants there had “largely de­volved into dis­or­gan­ised groups re­sort­ing to crim­i­nal un­der­tak­ings”, ac­cord­ing to a US state­ment in 2014.

Is­lamic mil­i­tant at­tacks spiked af­ter that, most promi­nently with the home­grown Abu Sayyaf group ab­duct­ing dozens of for­eign­ers and lo­cals to ex­tort ran­soms.

About 100 Amer­i­can troops re­main in the south, Mr Gold­berg said yes­ter­day, adding that Je­maah Is­lamiyah, a South­east Asian group re­spon­si­ble for the deadly 2002 bomb­ings on the In­done­sian re­sort is­land of Bali, and other for­eign­ers were in Min­danao.

But Mr Duterte, who took of­fice on June 30, had said US troops are adding to ten­sions with the Is­lamic com­mu­ni­ties in the south­ern re­gion of Min­danao.

Is­lamic mil­i­tants have waged a decades-long sep­a­ratist in­sur­gency in Min­danao that has claimed more than 120,000 lives. The re­gion is the an­ces­tral home­land of the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in the mainly Catholic Philip­pines.

Photo: AFP

US am­bas­sador Philip Gold­berg (cen­tre) sits with Philip­pine De­fence Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana (left) dur­ing the turn-over cer­e­mony of a C-130T cargo plane from the US at a mil­i­tary air­base in Manila yes­ter­day.

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