The decision by the US government to cancel a major joint military exercise with the Philippines has prompted angry denunciations, with critics accusing Washington of putting pressure on Manila as it seeks to gain custody of a US Marine convicted of raping a local woman.
Admiral William Fallon, commander of US military forces in the Pacific, said on Thursday that he was canceling the joint military exercise, scheduled for February, because of Manila's failure to turn over Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to US authorities.
A local court convicted Smith earlier this month of raping a woman in November of last year at a former US military base north of Manila.
The US Embassy says that under the Visiting Forces Agreement signed by both countries, Smith should be in the custody of the embassy while he appeals his conviction.
Fallon said in an interview on Thursday that the US would halt aid and reconstruction programs carried out by the US military here until he was confident the troops' legal rights would be protected.
While US military bases in this former colony were closed in 1991, hundreds of US troops have been sent to the southern island of Mindanao to help Filipino troops fight groups like Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, which have been linked to al-Qaeda.
Wigberto Tanada, a former senator who is representing the woman in fighting Smith's appeal, said Washington's cancelation of the exercises and the threat to suspend military aid "is just another way of putting pressure on the Philippine government."
This, he said, "is most unfortunate, because it seems that despite the long period of special relations between the US and the Philippines, the Americans still have not learned to treat us as equals."
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