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Philippine Lawsuit Tries to Stop Joint Anti-Terrorism Exercises - 2002-02-01


Philippine lawyers have gone to the Supreme Court to try to stop joint anti-terrorism exercises between U.S. and Philippine forces. The six-month long exercise began this week, opening up the first Southeast Asian theater in the U.S. led war against terror.

Attorney Arthur Lim said he expects the Philippine Supreme Court to consider his suit next Tuesday. Mr. Lim and other opponents of the joint military exercise argue the Constitution bars foreign troops from operating in combat zones and the current maneuvers are therefore a violation of Philippine sovereignty.

The six-month exercise, dubbed Balikatan, will involve about 660 U.S. troops in and near the southern city of Zamboanga. One of its aims is to train Philippine troops to capture the Abu Sayyaf rebels, who say they are fighting for a Muslim state in the south, but are best known for a series of kidnappings.

"I am now saying that the American troops in Balikatan while under the cover of performing a joint military exercise with the Philippine counterparts will actually be doing combat duty since their deployment is in a war-torn area to pursue or help pursue the Abu Sayyaf," Mr. Lim said.

Mr. Lim, the former head of the bar association in the Philippines, does not expect the Supreme Court to halt the exercise. He said the court often leans toward the positions of President Gloria Arroyo's government. "It is by a long shot that I would be able to stop this. But I want to focus national attention on this problem and the proclivity of the Americans to interfere in our affairs lately," he said.

Mr. Lim said that while the Abu Sayyaf's actions are "condemnable and barbaric," they are purely an internal matter.

The group, however, two years ago kidnapped tourists and workers from a Malaysian resort. It is suspected of trading arms across international borders, of having links to the al-Qaida terrorist network, and it currently holds two Americans among its hostages.

Friday, military officials said at least five Abu Sayyaf troops died in a battle with Philippine soldiers on Basilan Island. The military said none of its troops were injured.

Both the Philippine and U.S. governments stress that American troops only will train in Basilan. However, they will be allowed to carry weapons, and fire back if they are attacked. The presence of U.S. troops is sensitive in the Philippines; until a decade ago, the United States maintained military bases in the country, its former colony.

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