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Transfer of Marine to US Custody Clears Way for Philippine Military Exercises

The U.S. Embassy in Manila says large military exercises in the Philippines scheduled for this year can go ahead now that a U.S. Marine convicted of raping a Filipino woman has been transferred to embassy custody. Douglas Bakshian has more from Manila.

The annual war games, called Balikatan, usually involve as many as 5,000 U.S. troops and are a sign of the close ties between Manila and Washington, two long-standing allies.

But the exercises were canceled because 21-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was being held in a Manila jail. He was convicted last month of raping a woman while his ship was in the Philippines, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Under a pact between the United States and the Philippines, called the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Marine is to be held in U.S. custody while appealing his conviction. That appeal is under way.

Just a few days ago the Philippine government transferred Corporal Smith to U.S. embassy custody. The move overrides the decision of a local judge who had put him in a local jail.

Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop says this clears away the obstacle blocking the military exercises.

"As of now we are going to go forward with those exercises due to the change in the situation of the custody of Lance Corporal Smith and the adherence to the Visiting Forces Agreement by the government of the Philippines," he said.

No dates were immediately given for the exercises, which were originally planned for February.

The rape case has prompted protests in the Philippines against the country's close military relationship with the United States. Critics of President Gloria Arroyo have accused her of giving in to American pressure by transferring the Marine to U.S. custody. She says her government acted properly and she is confident the courts will uphold the move.