Rights is­sues loom as Tiller­son, Duterte meet

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Jim Gomez of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

MANILA, Philip­pines — Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte met Mon­day with Amer­ica’s top diplo­mat, voic­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the U.S. amid global con­cerns over North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram and an­grily dis­miss­ing me­dia ques­tions about hu­man-rights abuses by his gov­ern­ment.

Duterte and U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son met in Manila at a re­gional meet­ing of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions. It was the high­est-level in­ter­ac­tion to date be­tween a mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and Duterte, who is ac­cused by hu­man-rights groups of fla­grant abuses in his bloody war against il­le­gal drugs.

If the two lead­ers dis­cussed those or other U.S. con­cerns about Duterte’s gov­ern­ment, they didn’t do so in pub­lic. In­stead, the two fo­cused on the al­liance be­tween the two coun­tries and on the North Korea is­sue as re­porters were al­lowed in briefly for the start of their meet­ing.

Duterte wel­comed the Amer­i­can and said he knew the U.S. was con­cerned about Py­ongyang’s mis­sile pro­gram.

“You come at a time when I think the world is not so good, es­pe­cially in the Korean Penin­sula,” Duterte said.

Ear­lier, as they shook hands, the two ig­nored a shouted ques­tion about whether they would dis­cuss hu­man rights. And at a news con­fer­ence af­ter their meet­ing, Duterte bris­tled but didn’t an­swer di­rectly when asked whether hu­man rights had come up.

“Hu­man rights, son of a b***h,” Duterte said, ar­gu­ing he shouldn’t be ques­tioned about al­leged vi­o­la­tions given the chal­lenges he’s fac­ing. “Po­lice­men and sol­diers have died on me. The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So hu­man rights, don’t go there.”

But ahead of the meet­ing, Duterte’s pres­i­den­tial spokesman, Ernesto Bella, said the topic would in­deed come up, along with other press­ing mat­ters such as global ter­ror­ism threats, eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and se­cu­rity in Marawi, the city that has been un­der siege by pro-Is­lamic State mil­i­tants for more than two months.

The U.S., too, said ahead of the meet­ing that hu­man rights would be among the topics on the agenda.

Hu­man- rights groups have ques­tioned the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to en­gage with Duterte. But Tiller­son ar­gued there’s no con­tra­dic­tion pre­sented by the U.S. de­ci­sion to help the Philip­pines fight the mil­i­tants.

Nearly 700 peo­ple have died in the fight­ing, in­clud­ing 528 mil­i­tants and 122 sol­diers and po­lice­men, since hun­dreds of gun­men stormed into build­ings and homes in Marawi, a cen­ter of Is­lamic faith in the south­ern third of the pre­dom­i­nantly Ro­man Catholic na­tion.

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