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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sulu Archipelago in Philippines

Sulu Archipelago tagged safe haven for terrorists

MANILA, Philippines — The United States has listed Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines as a “safe haven" for terrorists in East Asia and the Pacific.

In its Country Reports on Terrorism for 2008 dated April 30, the US State Department said the Philippines is included in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas Littoral that is hard to monitor.

The State Department's report is said be very crucial in the shaping of US foreign policy.

“Southeast Asia includes a safe haven area composed of the Sulawesi Sea and Sulu Archipelago, which sit astride the maritime boundary between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The geography of the thousands of islands in the region made the area difficult for authorities to monitor.

  • Worker migration, tourism, trade, and other non-terrorist activities, both licit and illicit, that occur in this maritime region pose another challenge to identifying and countering the terrorist threat," the report said.Sulu Archipelago comprises the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, all part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Groups that “benefited" from such a safe haven include the

  • Philippine Abu Sayyaf Group and the
  • Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah, said the report.

While Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have improved their efforts to control their shared maritime boundaries, this area remains difficult to control, the State Department added.

  • “Surveillance is partial at best, and traditional smuggling and piracy groups provided an effective cover for terrorist activities, such as movement of personnel, equipment, and funds.
  • The Sulu/Sulawesi Seas Littoral represents a safe haven for the Jemaah Islamiya (JI) terrorist organization and the Philippine Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)," it said.‘

Weak gov’t control’

Another slap on the Philippine government was the State Department’s assessment that government control in southern Philippines, specifically Sulu and Mindanao, is “weak."

“The government’s control in this area is weak due to rugged terrain, weak rule of law, poverty, and local Muslim minority resentment of central governmental policies.

In addition to a few Jemaah Islamiya (JI) fugitives and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the area hosts several terrorist and insurgent groups including:

  • the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army and the Rajah Solaiman Movement," it noted.

Also in 2008, the US Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program added six terrorists to its Most Wanted list, three of them from the Philippines.

  • These included Radullan Sahiron, a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, with a reward offer of up to $1 million;
  • Abdul Basit Usman, linked to bombings in Mindanao, with a reward offer of up to $1 million; and
  • Khair Mundos, an ASG member known to have funneled money from al Qaeda to be used in bombings against Americans, with a reward offer of up to $500,000.

The State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism (S/CT) has developed the Regional Strategic Initiative (RSI) in key terrorist theaters of operation to collectively assess the threat, pool resources, and devise collaborative strategies, action plans, and policy recommendations.

It promotes cooperation between the US’ counter-terrorism partners, such as between

  • Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines as they confront terrorist transit across the Sulawesi Sea;
  • or among Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco, Niger, Chad, and Mali, to counter al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

“Terrorists are highly adaptable," the US noted.

Terror transit triangle

On the other hand, a Coastwatch South program aims to dramatically improve oversight of the tri-border “Terrorist Transit Triangle" with the use of 12 to 17 coastal radar sites.

Connecting these sites are a string of air, ocean, and ground surveillance and interdiction assets, including Forward-Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) pods for Philippine Navy aircraft and 10 rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs).“

Defeating them requires both centralized coordination and field authority. Resources and responses must be applied in a rapid, flexible, and focused manner," the State Department said.The US State Department listed terrorist groups active in the Philippines as including the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), Jemaah Islamiya (JI), the New People’s Army (NPA), and the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM).

It said Philippine security forces continued to make progress against terrorist groups, killing 35 terrorists and capturing another 16 during the first half of the year.

Those apprehended included an RSM cofounder and two bomb makers in Mindanao.

Also, the US counter-terrorism strategy of offering development opportunities in areas at risk for terrorist recruitment continued to marginalize the small remaining numbers of ASG and JI terrorists from Muslim insurgents in Southern Philippines.

Stubborn NPAs“While the 5,000-strong NPA continued to disrupt public security and business operations with intermittent attacks on communication and transportation infrastructure throughout the Philippines, it continued to decline in personnel and effectiveness.

However, the NPA remained steadfast in its refusal to accept President Arroyo’s broad amnesty overtures, turning down offers to negotiate unless its US and international designations as a terrorist organization were rescinded," it noted.

On the other hand, RSM maintained close links to ASG and JI, and was alleged to have been responsible for multiple attacks in the Philippines.

The State Department lauded the 2007 passage of the Human Security Act (HSA) as an important step in the modernization of tools against terrorists.

But it admitted a key difficulty in implementing the law is that stiff fines will be imposed on the law enforcement agency for violating a suspect’s rights if the accused is later acquitted or the case is dismissed, with fines of P500,000 a day during the wronged suspect’s detention.

Still, the US said it has had “excellent cooperation" from Philippine law enforcement officials in obtaining access to terrorist detainees and witnesses for FBI interviews, and access to criminal, immigration, financial, and biographic records via the mechanisms established in the US-Philippine Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT).

Also, it noted the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issued digitized, machine-readable passports at all its locations.In the meantime, the State Department said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) is using public-private partnerships through its Global Development Alliances (GDAs) for education.

In Western and Central Mindanao, and the ARMM, there are six GDA partnerships to increase educational opportunities for children by ensuring access to quality education; to improve the capacity of teachers, and raise math, science and English skills among elementary school beneficiaries; to increase employment opportunities and engage young leaders; and, to provide business and skills training for out-of-school youth; and, to provide opportunity for school drop-outs and out-of-school youths to rejoin formal schooling through an accreditation and equivalency mechanism. - GMANews.TV

The Rest @ GMA News TV

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