Friday, August 31, 2012

Spratlys very calm, says Philippine military

Despite the recent visit of a Taiwanese delegation to Itu Aba, the biggest island in the Spratly region, the security situation in the hotly-contested area remains calm, the military said Thursday.

Lt. Col. Niel Estrella, spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Western Command (Wescom), said regular air and sea monitoring yielded negative results on new intrusion of any foreign vessels inside the country’s regime of islands also known as the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG).

“It’s very calm out there. Wala tayong namonitor na intrusion sa KIG,” Estrella said citing reports from Wescom’s sustained territorial air and sea patrols over hotly-contested region.

Tension mounted in the region for the last several months over China's aggressive behavior in laying its territorial claim of the entire Spratlys region.

After establishing a prefecture city and a military garrison in Woody Islands in the Paracel island group, Beijing proceeded to deploy dozens of fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea amid strong protests by the Philippines and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, a Taiwanese frigate was recently monitored to have visited Itu Aba, as Taipeh also reiterates its sovereignty over the entire region.

Local security experts viewed the recent visit of the a 14-member delegation from the National Taiwan University on board military vessel as part of an ongoing preparation by Taiwan’s defense ministry for its planned unilateral live fire drill in the region scheduled next month.

The Taiwanese delegation was monitored holding a flag-raising ceremony along with coast members stationed in the island, an activity confirmed by the Taiwanese Defense ministry.

“Naval Officers and soldiers also visited the island to reiterate sovereignty claims over the Spratlys,” the Taiwan’s defense ministry, in a statement said.

In July, as territorial disputes mounted among the Spratly's-claimant countries, Taiwanese authorities announced that it is deploying long-range artillery pieces and mortars in Itu Aba, a move that angered Vietnam.

Aside from Vietnam and Taiwan, the Philippines, China, Malaysia and Brunie, are claiming in whole or in part, the region, a major commercial sealane that is also believed to be sitting on huge oil and mineral deposits.

Relatedly, the United States government donated on Thursday two sophisticated police patrol boats and two boat-towing-heavy trucks to the Palawan police to enhance its maritime law enforcement and interception capabilities in the area.

US Ambassador Harry Thomas flew to Palawan to personally turned over the patrol boats to the police in a ceremony held in Puerto Princesa City.-The Philippine Star (August 30, 2012 5:16PM)

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