HussinZamboanga City, Feb. 27, 2003 -- A senior Muslim government official yesterday warned President Arroyo against allowing US combat troops into the separatist guerrilla stronghold of Sulu in the Philippines' southern Mindanao region, saying it could lead to a wider war in that already war-torn part of the country.

Parouk Hussin, a former guerrilla leader who is the current governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), advised the government to "tread carefully on sensitive issues like active participation in combat operations."

"It's dangerous," Hussin said, adding conflict may arise in the area as majority of Tausugs making up the Sulu population have voiced opposition to the presence of foreign troops in their province.

Besides, the governor added, there are several armed groups operating in the area, which would make it hard for American forces to distinguish their real target.

Hussin said the Americans may not accomplish their primary objective to annihilate the Abu Sayyaf.

"It's not easy to decimate people who are masters of the terrain and who can survive in the worst situation," he added.

Hussin noted that the ARMM is already inching forward with its development agenda and that any interruption will not do their programs any good.

"We do not like to be interrupted by more conflict, more violence," he said.

The ARMM governor said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is capable of hunting down the extremist group.

"Our (military forces) are doing the job, the Abu Sayyaf is now very marginalized. There is no reason why we have to invite foreign troops to assist our (AFP) in running after them," Hussin said in an interview during the presentation of Japan's $400-million grant loan for the development of Mindanao.

Had he been consulted by Malacanang, he said he could have contributed positively to the success of the military exercises because he hails from Sulu,

Hussin was quick to point out, however, that he is not against the war games but only against the participation of American troops in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

Hussin, a native of Jolo and a former senior leader of another and once the biggest Moslem secessionist group in Mindanao, the Moro National Liberation Front, that signed a peace agreement with the Ramos administration in 1996, said he regretted that the national government did not consult him on the planned US military operation.

"But these are decisions from the top, so I don't think we have a right to question (them)," he added.

The ARMM governor stressed that the Constitution bans foreign combat troops on Philippine territory and authorizing the US military to engage the Abu Sayyaf in combat could lead to "accidents, specially casualties from our friends (US troops) outside."

Hussin said, "They (American soldiers) might retaliate massively, and who will be the victims again? Civilians."

He recalled the bloody US pacification campaign against the Tausug, the people of Jolo, during the American colonial period in the early 20th century.

"This is still fresh in the memory of some of the Tausugs. They do not like a situation where these sad memories will be rekindled," Hussin said.

When Tausug mothers put their babies to sleep, "they do not sing lullabies like 'Summertime' or 'Hush Little Baby'. They sing ballads like, 'Go to sleep so you'll be strong so you can avenge the atrocities committed' on your father," he added.

Hussin said he believes that Filipino troops are "very much on top of the situation" and have "marginalized" the Abu Sayyaf gunmen who he said are on the run.

"We are not objecting to their (American troops) coming, training our soldiers, and provide them (Filipino troops) with equipment," he added. (Tribune)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved