Australian troops to train Philippine soldiers in counterterrorism

The United States on Tuesday welcomed a proposed accord that would allow Australian troops to train Philippine soldiers in counterterrorism, but a left-wing opposition lawmaker feared it could lead to foreign intervention. Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill, who is on a four-day visit for counterterrorism talks, said Monday his government was negotiating a status-of-forces agreement with the Philippines to expand its training of local troops battling al-Qaida-linked militants.

The accord, which Manila proposed last year, would make Australia the second country after the U.S. to be given permission to train troops in the country, which has been criticized as the weakest link in the war on terror in Southeast Asia because of the presence of terror training camps.

"More cooperation among partners in fighting terrorism is a good thing," U.S. Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said.

He said it was up to Australia and the Philippines to determine what kind of training the Australians could provide.

A left-wing lawmaker, Teodoro Casino, expressed concern the accord would "open doors for direct military intervention."

He said he would file a resolution calling for a House of Representatives inquiry into the proposed agreement.

The Philippine Constitution prohibits foreign troops in the country unless their presence is covered by a treaty, and bars them from combat. Washington, which deploys hundreds of troops for joint training in the country each year, has a defense treaty with Manila, but Australia doesn't.

Casino said his concern was set off partly by earlier statements by Australian officials advocating pre-emptive military strikes against terrorists in other countries, reports the AP. I.L.

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