Saturday, November 15, 2014

14 killed as Philippine troops battle militants

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops on Friday battled Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for the kidnappings of several foreigners and Filipinos in the restive south, leaving at least five soldiers and nine extremists dead, a military commander said.

 

At least 26 other soldiers and more than 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen were wounded in the clashes that raged for five hours in Sulu province's mountainous Talipao town, army Col. Allan Arrojado said. The fighting eased by nightfall and government forces were pursuing about 300 militants who split into smaller groups and withdrew, he said.

He described it as "a major encounter," and added in a text message, "We are tracking their whereabouts."

A military officer involved in the fighting said another soldier was missing and the wounded troops would be airlifted to a military hospital. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters about the ongoing operation.

The militants were reportedly under Radulan Sahiron, a one-armed Abu Sayyaf commander long wanted by the U.S. and Philippine governments for alleged involvement in many terrorist attacks and kidnappings. It was not immediately clear if the militant, now in his 70s, was directly involved in the fighting.

Abu Sayyaf forces under another commander, Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, were also involved in the clash, military officials said.

President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the military to crack down on the militants after they freed two German tourists on Oct. 17, reportedly after a large ransom payment. It led to concerns that the money could be used by the resilient Abu Sayyaf to acquire more weapons.

A confidential government intelligence report seen by The Associated Press said Sawadjaan, who was behind the Germans' kidnappings, shared the ransom money with other Abu Sayyaf commanders, including Puruji Indama, a militant blamed for bombings and beheadings on nearby Basilan island. It said Indama planned to use the money and borrow some more from Sawadjaan to purchase a number of lightweight artillery anti-tank weapons that are popular among the militants.

An Abu Sayyaf spokesman, Moammar Askali, earlier claimed in a radio interview that his group received a 250 million-peso ($5.6 million) ransom for the Germans' release, but the military says his claim needs to be validated.

The militants are holding several other hostages in Sulu's dense jungles, including two European birdwatchers who were seized more than two years ago and a Malaysian police officer who was recently abducted in Malaysia's Sabah state on Borneo Island, a few hours away by speedboat from Sulu.

The Abu Sayyaf, a loose grouping of about 400 mostly poor rural fighters, has turned to ransom kidnappings, extortion and other crimes to endure years of battle setbacks dealt by U.S. military-backed Philippine offensives.

The extremist group has had links to the al-Qaida network and is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations for deadly bombings, kidnappings and beheadings.

 

By: Jim Gomez (AP)

Article Link: Yahoo News

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Army discovers another NPA camp in Negros

CAMP PERALTA, Jamindan, Capiz – Troops from the 62nd Infantry Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, Philippine Army while conducting security operations discovered an abandoned New People’s Army (NPA) camp that can accommodate 60 personnel in Sitio Kinabong, Brgy Ig-mayaan, Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental at 3:15 P.M. on Wednesday November 12, 2014. Lt. Col. Rommel Cordova, Commander of 62IB said that the discovered NPA camp was abandoned by the rebels few days ago. “We acknowledge the efforts of the civilian populace of Brgy Ig-mayaan for giving us the information and for always coordinating with us in ensuring the peaceful environment in their community,” added Cordova. Said NPA camp has twenty (20) bunkers, four (4) comfort rooms, four (4) kitchens and a mess hall.

from Philippine Defense Today http://ift.tt/1u49dGc

via IFTTT

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Philippines offers U.S. forces access to military bases

The Philippines has agreed to allow the United States access to its military bases under a new security deal being negotiated by the two allies, amid mounting concern over China's increasing assertiveness in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The offer was made during a sixth round of talks held in Washington last week, Filipino officials said on Friday. The two sides hope to finalize terms before U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on a visit to Asia, including the Philippines, next month.

"Consensus was arrived at on many provisions of the draft agreement," Pio Lorenzo Batino, defense undersecretary told a news conference, adding the deal is 80 percent done.

"The proposed agreement will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines)facilities with elements of the U.S. military."

The United States plans to "rebalance" its forces in Asia-Pacific region, and has similar arrangements with Australia and Singapore, as part of its strategy to counter China.

The new agreement on enhanced defense cooperation will allow the United States increased deployment of troops, ships, aircraft and humanitarian equipment.

U.S. military access in the Philippines is currently limited to during annual joint-exercises and port visits. The Philippines kicked the United States out two large military bases, including Subic Bay, in 1991.

While that ended a special relationship going back 40 years between the United States and its former colony won its independence in 1946, an alliance has endured.

Manila would welcome the return of a U.S. military presence to deter China's ambitions in the South China Sea, and to help provide humanitarian assistance during natural disasters.

"It will not stop China from its bullying tactics, but it will become more cautious and might exercise self-restraint due to the U.S. presence," Rommel Banlaoi, an analyst at Philippine Institute of Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said.

"The Philippines will also benefit from more exercises and more assistance from the U.S. and it will elevate the Philippines to a major non-NATO ally in the Pacific."

Friction between China and the Philippines and other states in the region, over disputed territories in the South China Sea has increased since last year despite diplomatic efforts to forge an agreement on maritime conduct.

The dispute revolves round competing claims over the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles.

On Sunday, three Chinese coast guard ships stopped two Filipino civilian vessels from delivering food, water and construction materials to troops based on a ship that was deliberately run aground on reef in the Spratlys in 1999 to reinforce the Philippines' claim.

Manila called the Chinese actions "a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines".

Under the draft accord, the Philippines will allow U.S. forces joint use of facilities in several military bases like Manila, Clark, Palawan, Cebu, Nueva Ecija, and La Union, a military official with knowledge of the negotiations.

"We are only offering U.S. military forces access to fewer military bases," Ambassador Eduardo Malaya, a member of the panel negotiating with the Americans, said.

Manila refused a request for use of civilian airfields and ports, like Subic Freeport Bay, Laoag and Davao international airports, according to the military official.

Batino said the agreement will be legally binding but will not require ratification by the Philippine Senate, which could delay the actual U.S. deployment.

Article Source: Yahoo News

Manila air-drops supplies to troops on disputed reef

The Philippines air-dropped food and water to soldiers posted on a grounded transport ship on a disputed South China Sea shoal, after China blocked two supply ships from reaching the troops, a senior navy official said on Wednesday.

Chinese ships patrolling waters around Second Thomas Shoal, known in China as the Ren'ai reef, on Sunday ordered the Philippine ships carrying construction materials to leave the area.

Beijing claims Manila is trying to start construction on the disputed reef after it ran aground an old transport ship in 1999 to mark its territory and stationed marines on the ship. Manila claims the Shoal is part of the Philippine's continental shelf.

"We only intend to improve the conditions there, we have no plans to expand or build permanent structures on the shoal," said a Philippines navy official, who declined to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

"On Monday, we sent a navy Islander plane to drop food and water, but it will only last a few days. We really have to send back the civilian boats. Since last year, we've been resupplying our troops using civilian ships to avoid confrontation and this was the first time China blocked them."

On Tuesday, Manila summoned the second highest Chinese embassy official to hand over a strong-worded protest, calling the blockade "a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had called in Philippine diplomats in Beijing to lodge a protest in response.

"The Philippines' motive in trying to illegally occupy Ren'ai reef and create incidents in the South China Sea is abundantly clear. China calls on the Philippines to stop all its provocative actions," he added.

The Second Thomas Shoal, a strategic gateway to Reed Bank, believed to be rich in oil and natural gas, is one of several possible maritime flashpoints that could prompt the United States to intervene in defense of Asian allies troubled by increasingly assertive Chinese maritime claims.

WASHINGTON CALLS BLOCKADE "PROVOCATIVE"

On Wednesday, Washington said it was troubled by China's blockage of the Philippines ships, calling it "a provocative move that raises tensions."

"Pending resolution of competing claims in the South China Sea, there should be no interference with the efforts of claimants to maintain the status quo," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. She added that "freedom of navigation" in the area "must be maintained."

China has objected to efforts by Manila to challenge its territorial claims under the Law of the Sea at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Ernest Bower of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said new pressure on Manila could be due to China's perception that the United States has shown weakness in dealing with crises in Syria and Ukraine and will be similarly lacking in resolve in Asia - in spite of its declared policy "pivot" to the region.

It also reflected Chinese concerns about negotiations expected to bring about broader access for U.S. troops to the Philippines, he said.

"The Chinese see a very unhappy situation in the Philippines - that one of their smaller neighbors is taking them to court and working with the Americans for expanded military access," Bower said. "It does not fit with the Chinese script of where they want to be in terms of the South China Sea and their sovereign claims."

Bower said such incidents raised the risk that a small clash could escalate and it was important for the United States to make its commitment to the region clear ahead of a planned visit to Asia, including the Philippines, by President Barack Obama next month.

"The Chinese look at the situation in Syria and Ukraine and they look at the so-called Asia pivot and they don't think there is any political foundation that has been built that would support American action in Asia if push came to shove," he said.

Beijing's claim over islands, reefs and atolls that form the Spratlys, a group of 250 uninhabitable islets spread over 165,000 square miles, has set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea. China also has competing territorial claims further north with Japan, a major U.S. ally in Asia.

The South China Sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship borne trade a year and its seabed is believed to be rich with energy reserves.

Article Source: Yahoo News

Philippines protests China stopping troop resupply

The Chinese coast guard prevented delivery of supplies to Filipino soldiers guarding a disputed shoal in the South China Sea and an envoy rejected a Philippine protest over the interference, officials said Tuesday.

Chinese ships prevented two Filipino civilian vessels hired by the Philippine navy from reaching Second Thomas Shoal on Sunday, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. The shoal is called Ayungin Shoal by Manila and Ren'ai Reef by the Chinese.

"Ayungin Shoal is part of the continental shelf of the Philippines and therefore, the Philippines is entitled to exercise sovereignty rights and jurisdiction in the area without the permission of other states," the statement said.

China's actions "constitute a clear and urgent threat to the rights and interests of the Philippines" under the Law of the Sea, it added.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said the resupply was a routine activity that hasn't been interrupted by the Chinese in the past.

"For 15 years we have conducted regular resupply missions and personnel rotation without interference from China," he said.

He said the Chinese ships used digital signs, sirens and megaphones in ordering the Filipino vessels to leave. The Filipinos returned to Palawan, the nearest Philippine province east of the Shoal.
China's charge d'affaires was summoned and handed the protest note. Hernandez said that as in the past, Beijing rejected the protest.

Less than a month ago, Manila also protested a Chinese water cannon attack on Filipino fisherman near another disputed shoal. No one was injured in the Jan. 27 incident at the Scarborough Shoal off the country's main island of Luzon in the north.

The Filipino troops awaiting fresh supplies are stationed on a decrepit military hospital ship that ran aground in 1999 on the shallow coral outcrop of the Second Thomas Shoal. The rusty ship has since become the symbol of the country's sovereignty over the area.

China has been demanding the removal of the ship, claiming that the area is part of Chinese territory.
Department of National Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said "the Chinese coast guard ships blocked our two vessels which were en route to Ayungin to reprovision" the troops. He did not give other details.

The Chinese did not block Philippine marines and supplies to the station last June, a month after the deployment of Chinese ships to the area that also prompted diplomatic protests from Manila.

China's official Xinhua news agency on Monday quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang as saying that the two Philippine ships were loaded with construction materials and were driven away by Chinese coast guard vessels as they approached the shoal.

"China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters including the Ren'ai Reef," Qin said.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea. Nansha is the Chinese name for the Spratlys, a chain of resource-rich islands, islets and reefs claimed partly or wholly by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Article Source: Yahoo News