Philippines: Blair urged to fight poverty, not terror

 The UK should send agricultural specialists rather than ant-terrorism experts to the Philippines, aid workers said this week. Britain has just offered to send Scotland Yard police trained in anti-terrorism to the country. The proposal was made on Monday, when Tony Blair met with Philippine president Gloria Arroyo in Downing Street. Hundreds of American troops are currently pouring into the country as part of a widening of the war after the US campaign in Afghanistan. But Carino Antequisa, an advisor for CAFOD in the Philippines, said the most effective way to end terrorism would be to address the fundamental needs of a poor country. He said: "Terrorism is a symptom of poverty. The government should focus on the basic social justice issues like land reform. Unfortunately the Philippine government seems to be going for a militaristic approach." Abu Sayyaf rebels and other Muslim groups have been fighting and evading government forces for years. The US has sought to link the Abu Sayyaf group with the al-Quaeda network - though this claim has been refuted by many independent observers. Antequisa said the growing military presence could trample on hopes of a peaceful agreement between the government and other Muslim groups. He said: The fear is that this situation will undermine the peace process which is going on at the moment." One of the major causes of unrest, he said, was that many local people are being denied access to land, while whole tracts of the country are being leased to foreign corporations for mining and plantation. Antequisa said Blair is in a strong position to implement social reform. "I would like to see the UK provide more support to the Philippine government to address issues like land reform "Instead of bring their anti-terrorist troops, they should send their experts on how we can develop agricultural and social policies for the benefit of our own people."

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