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US troops legitimate targets of Moro rebels–lawyers’ group

Posted by Abi Kwok on September 9, 2008

By Abigail Kwok
First Posted 14:47:00 09/09/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The presence of US troops in key areas in the Mindanao region makes them “legitimate targets” of attacks by Moro rebels and “will…destroy any hope for the peace process,” a group of lawyers said on Tuesday.

In a statement, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said the presence of US troops in Mindanao reportedly for “intelligence gathering” also violated both the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Balikatan Exercises agreed under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Philippine Constitution.

Secretary general Neri Colmenares said that under Section 1 (a), Part B on Exercise Level of the ToR, limits the actions of US troops to “training” “with the primary objective of enhancing the operational capabilities of both forces.”

“The ToR did not mention acts of gathering intelligence data, and is therefore, a violation even of the VFA and the ToR itself, especially since intelligence gathering is part of combat operations,” he added.

On Sunday, both Filipino and American officials rejected claims by some civilian groups that US soldiers had taken part in combat operations against Moro rebels and that their prolonged presence indicated that they were staying in the country permanently.

But military officials said that US troops were there to extend humanitarian aid and to help in intelligence gathering.

Colmenares also said that the presence of US troops in Mindanao could be a subject for international courts because “gathering intelligence information on the location or movement of a belligerent force is an act of hostility against that enemy force making the intelligence officer a legitimate target of attack under international law.”

Under Article 46, Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, which states that “notwithstanding any other provisions of the Conventions or of this Protocol any member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict who falls into the power of an adverse Party while engaging in espionage shall not have the right to the status of prisoner of war and may be treated as a spy.”

Under the international law, any group caught as a spy or involved in espionage would be subject to death penalty.

“The current deployment of US troops constitutes, therefore, a threat to peace and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo must order the complete withdrawal of these troops from the country,” Colmenares said.

He also called on the Commission on Human Rights to investigate and identify any US personnel involved in intelligence gathering and alleged combat operations to “ascertain their culpability in violating international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict.”


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