US cancels Philippine exercises

The US has cancelled an annual joint military exercise with the Philippines over the detention of a US marine convicted of rape, officials say.

A Philippine court has refused to return Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to US custody while he appeals - defying an agreement between the two countries.

L/Cpl Smith was sentenced by a Manila court to 40 years in prison earlier this month over the rape of a woman.

The case has sparked strong protests from women's and left-wing groups.

The annual Balikatan exercise was due to take place in February, and would have involved about 5,000 US soldiers and 3,000 Filipino troops.

A US embassy spokesman confirmed its cancellation was as a result of the "current custody issue that's still working its way through the Philippine judicial system."

"Until the government and the courts ensure the Philippines is in full compliance with the VFA (visiting forces agreement), it would not be prudent to bring additional US troops to the Philippines at this time," Matt Lussenhop added.

Under the VFA agreement, US troops accused of crimes should remain at the US embassy until all "legal processes" are completed.

Protests

Earlier this week, a court rejected a petition that L/Cpl Smith be transferred from his Manila jail to the US embassy to wait out his appeal.

Smith had been taking part in joint military exercises in November last year when he was arrested and charged along with three others.

The 21-year-old from St Louis, Missouri, was found guilty of raping a woman in a van at the former US base of Subic Bay, west of Manila. He insisted the sex was consensual.

The three other defendants were cleared.

The case created strong emotions in the Philippines, with protesters often appearing at the courtroom during the trial.

22/12/2006

Bron : BBC News

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