Jolo officials upset over US envoy visit

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: Local officials in Jolo felt slighted when United States (US) Ambassador Philip Goldberg failed to meet them as a courtesy protocol while visiting US troops stationed there on June 2.

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Goldberg and embassy officials went straight to the Philippine Marine Brigade headquarters where US troops put up a small camp under the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

Jolo, the capital of Sulu province, is hosting both Philippine and US military bases, although the main headquarters of the JSOTF-P is inside the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

Sources told The Manila Times that local government officials who learned about Goldberg’s visit has prepared and is ready to brief the former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research in case he wanted to discuss peace and development efforts in the province.

But no one from Goldberg’s group and not even the US Embassy informed Jolo officials that the ambassador is not meeting, even briefly, with them for a still unknown reason.

Former US ambassadors Kristie Kenny and Harry Thomas as well as other foreign dignitaries would always meet and pay their courtesy with local municipal and provincial officials every time they visit Sulu.

Kenny, in particular, had repeatedly flown to Jolo and enjoyed the hospitality accorded by her hosts and the Muslim residents.

A military officer said Goldberg spent several hours inside the base where he met behind closed door US troops and later police and military commanders, and former local exchange students who were invited by the embassy to meet with the ambassador.

Many Muslims are opposed to the presence of US troops in Sulu because of the killings of locals, including women and children, known as “Bud Dajo Massacre” more than 100 years ago. The memory of the brutal American campaign remains in the minds of many Muslims in Sulu.

Some 600 US troops have been stationed in the southern Philippines—on a rotation basis—since 2001 after three Americans—Kansas missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham, and Californian Guillermo Sobero—were kidnapped from a posh resort by the Abu Sayyaf. Sobero was beheaded by the rebels tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, while Martin was killed during a US-led rescue operation.

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