US troops will only join fight if wanted

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 12:00am

The United States would not send troops to Jolo in the south if its residents objected, US ambassador to Manila Francis Ricciardone said yesterday.

'We are not going to come crashing in there if they don't want us,' he said. 'The trust of the people in the community is absolutely fundamental to success.'

The American envoy broke his silence four days after unnamed US defence officials leaked to major American newspapers controversial plans to launch a joint military operation against the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf in the strife-torn island.

Critics insist this would be a violation of the Philippines constitution, but the debate has yet to be settled.

'Never mind what other unidentified [US] sources said,' Mr Ricciardone said, insisting that US troops would only act as military advisers in the next joint military training exercise.

'We respect the constitution of the Philippines and would never violate it.' He dismissed threats that Tausug tribesmen in Jolo would kill US soldiers to avenge massacres carried out by the Americans in 1906 and 1913.

'With due respect to the Tausugs, this is not 1906 or 1913 but 2003,' Mr Ricciardone said. He claimed relations had improved since then.

But the Philippine military is taking the threats seriously. Armed forces chief General Dionisio Santiago ordered more security for several hundred Americans now in the southern Philippines port city of Zamboanga training Filipino soldiers in counter-terrorism.