Philippines: No need for US troops in standoff with Muslim rebels
The Manila Times, Philippines
MANILA -- Malacanang on Sunday dismissed the possibility of tapping foreign troops to address the current situation in Zamboanga City, where authorities and Muslim rebels have been locked in a weeklong standoff.
”There’s none. It’s farfetched,” said palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte in comments translated in English when asked about the prospects of elite U.S. troops joining the fray in the besieged city through the agreement on the increased rotational presence of American troops in the country.
President Benigno Aquino III earlier said that the government has an “overwhelming” number of forces to deal with the ongoing standoff in Zamboanga City.
Valte said that there is nothing unusual with the Philippines seeking assistance of other countries. However, she noted that the ongoing siege is a different matter.
She stressed that peace talks is an entirely different issue from discussions about the continued presence of U.S. servicemen in the country.
“Let us not relate these issues that are separate,” Valte added.
The U.S. military’s presence here ended after the Philippine Senate declined to renew contracts for American bases north of Manila. But Washington began sending in troops in 2002 to provide counterterrorism training for the Philippine military, which was facing a Muslim and communist insurgencies. The American forces are forbidden by the Philippine constitution from engaging in combat.
The Philippine-U.S. agreement aims to upgrade the Armed Forces of the Philippines so that it can be more capable of protecting the country’s territories and in responding to natural disasters.
Both Philippine and U.S. negotiators have earlier agreed that American troops and equipment in Philippine military facilities will be temporary and the visitors must comply with the country’s laws.
Asked if U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit will seal the said deal, Valte said, it will be discussed by both leaders.
The Palace official, meanwhile, said that U.S. government through the U.S. Agency for International Development has provided $600,000 worth of assistance to thousands of refugees affected by the ongoing conflict.