Protesters force US military to retreat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2008, 12:00am

Muslim activists stone convoy in south

A convoy carrying US troops in the southern Philippine city of Marawi has been stoned and forced to retreat by Muslim activists demanding the suspension of today's US-Philippine military exercises.

A windscreen was shattered but no one was hurt during the clash on Friday, according to Luwaran, the website of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The convoy was forced to turn back to nearby Cagayan de Oro City.

US embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson confirmed the stoning incident and said it was a cause for concern.

'But I think that when people understand that what Balikatan [the annual joint military exercise] is providing in Mindanao is free medical care, free construction of schools and other community infrastructure, I would hope people would support that,' she said.

To cool the rising tension in Marawi, capital of Lanao del Sur province, Governor Mamintal Adiong has asked US military officials to sign a memorandum of understanding which would state that the joint exercises would be strictly humanitarian in nature. The two-week Balikatan exercise is due to begin today.

News of the governor's stance came after he supported a mammoth anti-Balikatan rally in Marawi last week, where an effigy of a US soldier was burned by protesters.

Mr Adiong said Muslim clerics and traditional leaders had urged him to change his mind.

'The news we got was that Governor Adiong is going to allow the Americans to engage in humanitarian exercises but that will not stop people from pursuing their protest rallies,' said Guiamel Alim, chairman of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society.

He said rallies would continue today in Cotabato City, Pikit town in North Cotabato and Iligan City.

Ms Thompson would not confirm if US military officials would sign a memorandum. All she would say was that 'there have been numerous discussions' between local executives and US and Philippine civilian and military officials.

'These discussions make it very clear that humanitarian activities of Balikatan are just that,' she said.

'They are about providing free medical care, about rebuilding community infrastructure like schools and activities to help communities that needed this kind of assistance.'

As for the protest rallies, she said 'people have a right to express their views but really it's best to express them peacefully without injury to life or property... and as long as it's done peacefully that's part of democracy'.

Afadmin, a moderate Muslim youth group, urged US envoy Kristie Kenney 'to appease our people's deep-seated apprehension over any untoward eventualities as they are caught by surprise in the holding of Balikatan in the provinces of Lanao Del Norte, Lanao Del Sur, Bukidnon, and Cagayan [de Oro]'.

'We cannot help but find irrationality over the conduct of a 'medical mission' in these places that shall be administered and carried out by some 8,000 heavily armed doctors,' it said.

Ding Cali, executive director of the Kalimudan Foundation, said: 'People are very apprehensive because wherever Americans come, they always brought war.

'What worries us most is how many there are, where will they be positioned and what are they doing exactly.'