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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

US: Philippines govt has not officially asked to pull forces out

MANILA - The United States said the Philippine government had not officially communicated President Rodrigo Duterte's demand to pull US military advisers out of the rebellion-torn southern Philippines.

Since 2002, up to 600 US advisers have been deployed in the Mindanao region to train troops battling Muslim extremists but their numbers have been scaled down in recent years.

A week after calling US President Barack Obama a “son of a whore”, the incendiary leader said yesterday US Special Forces in the region “have to go”.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay however attempted to downplay Duterte's comments, saying today they were “in the context of wanting to save the lives of these Americans who might be exposing themselves to unnecessary risk” from militant attacks.

In Washington, the Pentagon and State Department said they had not been officially contacted by Manila about pulling out the remaining advisers, who Yasay said now numbered about 100.

“We will continue to consult closely with our Filipino partners to appropriately tailor our assistance to whatever approach the new administration adopts,” Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross said.

State Department spokesman John Kirby also said they were not aware of any official request from the Philippine government.

Yasay, interviewed by Manila's ABS-CBN network, confirmed the allies had not discussed Duterte's demand.

Duterte, 71, has said he is “not a fan” of the United States and yesterday explained his demand by showing pictures of US troops killing Muslims as America took control of its new colony in the early 1900s.

He has said the spat was triggered by State Department criticism of his controversial war on drug crime, which has left about 3,000 people dead since he began his six-year term in July.

Obama has said Duterte must conduct his crime war “the right way”, protecting human rights.

Yasay stressed that Duterte's new comments did not signal a shift in policy, and that ties with the US remained strong.

The president only wanted to protect Americans from kidnappings and terrorism as they had become “a very good target”, Yasay said.

“There is no shift in so far as our policy is concerned with respect to our close friendship with the Americans.”

Yasay, who was heading to Washington for talks, added the Duterte administration would honour existing defence agreements including a 2014 accord giving the US military access to at least five Philippine bases, one of them in Mindanao.

His comments were in sharp contrast to an initial explanation by Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella, who said the demand “reflects (Duterte's) new direction towards coursing an independent foreign policy”. — AFP

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