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Scaled-down RP-US war games set in February

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By Joel Guinto
Last updated 03:39pm (Mla time) 01/30/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino and American troops will hold scaled-down Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises this month after preparations for the annual war games had been hampered by the dispute over the custody of a US marine convicted of raping a Filipina, an official said Tuesday.

Instead of the traditional military drills on the field, only staff exercises or classroom discussions at Clark Field in Angeles City north of Manila and humanitarian missions in the southern island province of Sulu will be conducted starting February 19, said Armed Forces Chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

Esperon said 380 Filipino soldiers and a “similar number” of American troops would participate in the lectures and aid missions.

Officials said field exercises had been set at the Philippine Marine Base in ternate town Cavite City, and two Philippine Army camps, Fort Magsaysay in Laur town, Nueva Ecija province, and Crow Valley in Capas town, Tarlac Province although these were “still being negotiated.”

“There will be a delay, but we hope it will push through by the fourth quarter,” Esperon said.

In an e-mail, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Zimmer, spokesman of the United States Army Pacific Command, acknowledged that the custody battle for Lance Corporal Daniel Smith had delayed the actual military exercises. He did not say if it would resume later this year.

“The reason the numbers are down is because the field training portion (FTX) of the exercise was cancelled because of a disagreement with the Visiting Forces Agreement. That disagreement was resolved but it was too late for the FTX to be rescheduled,” Zimmer said in an e-mail.

Officials had said that over 5,000 troops from the US and a
similar number from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) would
participate in this year’s exercises, which is provided under the Visiting
Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US.

Washington called off the Balikatan Exercises last December 22 after a local court refused to yield custody of Smith to the US Embassy in Manila.

The US agreed to resume exercises in early January after the Philippine government, without a court order, transferred Smith to the US embassy from the Makati City jail on December 29.

Smith was sentenced life imprisonment last December 4 by Judge Benjamin Pozon of Branch 139 of the Makati regional trial court after he was found guilty of raping a Filipina at the Subic Bay Freeport on Nov. 1, 2005.

Three other US marines were absolved of the crime and had been shipped back to an American base in Okinawa, Japan.

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Written by joelguinto

Tue+00:002007-01-30T20:48:39+00:00+00:0001b+00:00Tue, 30 Jan 2007 20:48:39 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm01

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