Agam's Gecko
Friday, March 17, 2006

eople in the southern Philippines have been terrorised by Muslim extremists for years, and remote Jolo Island has been a base of operations for Islamist kidnapping excursions into Malaysian and Indonesian territory. In anticipation of upcoming joint Filipino-American military drills and humanitarian operations, local Muslims have staged a rally in support of the exercise. From the Zamboanga Sun Star (since this is unlikely to be picked up by the western press):
More than 1,000 Muslims staged a surprising pro-US rally Saturday in Jolo, where thousands of American and Filipino soldiers are to start a month-long joint military drills and humanitarian mission in the impoverished island, about 950 kilometers south of Manila.

Hundreds of placard-bearing villagers, some came as far as the Parang town, south of the island, to join the rally led by the influential Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo, Sharif Ibrahim Ajibul Mohammad Pulalun.
The Sultanate of Sulu was established around the mid fifteenth century, and was sovereign until the beginning of the twentieth. The kingdom extended across the Sulu Sea from Mindanao to the current Malaysian province of Sabah in North Borneo. It is now within the "Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao" of the Philippine Republic.
The huge crowd gathered in downtown Jolo where many people were spotted waving hundreds of small US and Philippine flags and placards welcoming the Americans.

"We Love You America, Welcome!," one placard reads. "This is why we really want, we need the Americans to help us fight terrorism and so we may live peacefully here," said Abdulgafur Omar, a 29-year old trader.
There have long been links between the Abu Sayaf bases in this region, and the Jema'ah Islamiyah networks in Southeast Asia, as well as al Qaeda networks. Indonesian terrorists have received training in these camps for attacks within their own country. The people of this area have been living with Islamist terror since long before most westerners had even heard of bin Laden, or jihad became a household word.
Just Thursday, suspected Abu Sayyaf militants assassinated a police intelligence officer in downtown Jolo and beheaded another man and left his body near a garbage dump.
Here's to the success of the operation called Balikatan ("shoulder to shoulder"), that the people of Sulu might finally be able to live without fear. Wai Tim Blair.

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