2 U.S. Servicemen Slain Near Philippines Base : Military: Communist rebels are suspected. Meanwhile, talks on the future of American installations begin.
Suspected Communist guerillas shot and killed two U.S. Air Force enlisted men outside the American-run Clark Air Base late Sunday, hours before crucial talks on the future of six U.S. military facilities in the Philippines opened today to violent street demonstrations.
U.S. officials said the killings in Angeles City would not affect the high-level talks. Clark and the nearby Subic Bay naval station are the Pentagon’s largest overseas bases.
Hundreds of heavily armed riot police surrounded the Central Bank complex, where the talks were held, and fired tear gas shortly after noon today to block an estimated 200 chanting demonstrators who attempted to march on the site. At least two police officers were reported injured by small homemade bombs.
U.S. special negotiator Richard L. Armitage denounced the “lawlessness and banditry” of the killers of the two Americans.
“This brutal and clumsy attempt to drive a wedge between the United States and the Philippines will fail,” he told reporters before the opening ceremonies.
U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Platt also condemned the shooting. “We will not be intimidated by terrorism,” he said.
The assailants escaped, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility. But U.S. officials and Philippine police immediately said they suspect that Communist guerrillas were responsible. A U.S. Marine was killed execution-style May 4 outside Subic Bay Naval Base.
Police identified the victims Sunday as Airman John H. Raven, 21, and Airman James C. Green, 22. No hometowns were immediately available. A third American, Airman 1st Class Ronald Moore, 23, escaped unhurt. The men were from the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing stationed at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. They had arrived earlier this month for an annual combat training exercise.
The group’s sergeant, who declined to give his name, said the men had walked out of the Holiday Lodge and Drive Inn about 8:30 p.m. in civilian clothes after a pool-side barbecue for the unit’s 39 members. He said they were negotiating on the dimly lit street with a motorized tricycle driver for a ride downtown when they were shot.
“They were just two young kids,” the sergeant said angrily. “Good, clean-cut kids. They don’t smoke, don’t drink.”
Local police Capt. Gener Mangune quoted the tricycle driver as saying the gunmen had appeared suddenly from a nearby field of weeds. He said the killers said nothing, walked casually up to the men and fired point-blank with .45-caliber pistols. Five slugs were found at the scene, he said.
“They just walked up from behind and shot them in the head,” Mangune said. “Then they fled on foot.”
Moore told local reporters that he was talking to a second tricycle driver when he heard the shots.
“I was so scared,” Moore said. “I instinctively ducked and ran back to the hotel.”
The Communist New People’s Army has repeatedly warned that it would strike at American personnel and installations before the bases talks. There are about 40,000 U.S. men and women, defense contractors and their dependents at the six facilities in the Philippines, but nearly half live in private homes and apartments outside the bases.
“I suspect this will not be the end of it,” an American official said. “There will be other killings. . . . The reality is we do not have the capacity to protect our assets.”
Partially because of the increased threat, Ambassador Platt said last week that he is considering plans to sharply cut the size of the embassy operation, which is one of the largest in the world. Up to one-third of the more than 400 American diplomats and officials ultimately may be moved.
The embassy also plans to move its military advisory group’s headquarters, now isolated in Manila’s suburban Quezon City, to a site beside the embassy’s residential and recreational compound facing Manila Bay.
In Washington, a White House spokesman said, “We are appalled at what happened, and we will cooperate with the Philippine government and local authorities to fully investigate this matter.”
Hours after the shootings, a pool of blood still darkened the muddy street outside the two-story stucco hotel, which is about a mile from Clark’s main gate. The town’s bars and nightclubs were eerily deserted after U.S. military police ordered all personnel to return to the base or to their quarters in town.
“I’m sure this will affect the economy of the town,” Marino Morales, the hotel owner and vice mayor, said. “This town is base dependent.”
Clark has long been considered one of the safest overseas military postings. About 60% of the 20,000 American soldiers and family members assigned to Clark live in Angeles City and nearby residential areas, the largest percentage of off-base residence for any U.S. facility in the Pacific. About 40% of the 15,000 Americans at Subic Bay live off-base.
All leave and liberty for U.S. military personnel, defense contractors and their dependents was canceled throughout the Philippines after the shootings, and “non-essential off-base travel” was restricted, military spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Mukri said.
Eight Americans have been killed in the last 13 months in attacks blamed on Communist assassins. Although weakened by internal divisions and Philippine military operations, the rebels still control vast portions of the country, with about 19,000 guerrillas in the field, according to military analysts.
Sunday’s shootings were the first attack on Americans at Clark since October, 1987, when Communist assassins killed three U.S. servicemen just outside the base and wounded an officer. The killers were arrested and jailed but later escaped. The surrounding province of Pampanga has long been a center of Communist activity.
The murder of the two airmen occurred hours after Armitage, the U.S. special negotiator, arrived with a team of six Pentagon and State Department officials for today’s talks on the bases. Foreign Minister Raul Manglapus led the Philippine delegation.
U.S. officials hope the so-called exploratory talks will lead to full negotiations later this year. Leases originally set in 1947 on the six facilities expire in September, 1991.
Despite the reduction in East-West tensions, and anticipated deep cuts in Pentagon spending and troop strength, the United States considers the bases crucial for guarding Asian sea lanes and projecting power in the Pacific.
But they are a highly emotional issue for many Filipinos. The bases are widely seen as a vestige of the U.S. colonial period, and recent opinion polls show growing anti-U.S. sentiment among politicians, clergy and voters. Daily headlines trumpet base-related problems, from AIDS to errant servicemen who escape Philippine prosecution.
“It’s not a normal government-to-government negotiation,” cautioned one Asian diplomat. “The whole Philippine people will get involved. The talks are a national catharsis.”
Verbal sparring began even before the talks. President Corazon Aquino, appearing Sunday on nationwide TV, ruled out a quick deal and vowed to respect constitutional requirements for a formal treaty, rather than an executive agreement, if the leases are extended.
“Regardless of the outcome, our government has already begun to look beyond the bases,” Aquino said.
Armitage, a former assistant secretary of defense, was similarly testy in his opening statement, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
Saying he was not sent to “roll back the clock,” Armitage acknowledged that the resumption of Philippine democracy in 1986 “makes interactions between our governments more lively, complicated and, at times, more contentious. . . . “
“If you ask us to leave, leave we shall, as expeditiously as possible and with our pride fully intact,” he said. " . . . These negotiations could degenerate into acrimony unless both sides see and feel a mutuality of understanding, confidence and, above all, interests.”
U.S. negotiators are prepared to share the bases more with the Philippine military, leading to a less visible role for the Americans. The Pentagon particularly hopes to maintain the use of key ship-repair and bunkering facilities at Subic Bay. Troubled Bases Clark Air Base: Headquarters for the 13th U.S. Air Force, tactical arm of the Air Force in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean. It is 50 miles north of Manila. It has been used by American forces since 1901, originally as a cavalry post. Pilots from the United States and allied nations train there, and it is a major transit point for the U.S. military’s transport command. Subic Bay Naval Base: The Navy’s main supply and repair center in the western Pacific. It is 50 miles west of Manila. Marines train there in jungle tactics, and surveilance planes from Cubi Point naval air base monitor sea lanes. Wallace Air Base: It provides air defense and radar monitoring for the Philippines. It is on the western coast of Luzon, about 150 miles north of Manila. San Miguel Communication Base: A major relay station for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific communications system. It is about 60 miles north-west if Manila. Camp O’Donnell: An Air Force communications and electronic warfare station. It is about 10 miles north of Clark. In 1942, the Japanese used it to hold survivors of the Bataan Death March. Camp John Hay: A rest and recreation center for U.S. forces in the Philippines. It is in Baguio, a mountain resort 130 miles north of Manila. There are about 17,300 U.S. military personnel in the Philippines. Breakdown of military forces: Army: 600 Air Force: 9,200 Navy: 5,500 Marines: 2,000