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Politic-Economic-Society-Tech

Philippines approves more US troops for south

Hundreds more US troops will join 660 American soldiers who are already in the southern Philippines helping to fight Muslim rebels linked to the al-Qaeda terror network, officials said on Friday.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the government had approved the deployment of 340 US military engineers to strife-torn Basilan island, where the notorious Abu Sayyaf kindap gang is holding a US couple and a Filipina nurse.

But Golez said the new batch of US troops was "a civic action group", rather than a military force.

The American engineers will do infrastructure projects, including "road improvement, drilling of wells for safe drinking water and other infrastructure that will improve the lives of the people," Golez said.

The 660 US Special Forces soldiers already in the southern Philippines are training local troops to hunt down Abu Sayyaf rebels as part of joint operations that will last until July. They have been there since January in efforts to combat the Abu Sayyaf, who are accused of being the local allies of accused terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. Golez said the US engineering team would be in Basilan for about two months, trying to complete projects before the rainy season starts in mid-June.

He said the Americans had already spent three million dollars in civic action projects in Basilan and the new projects would cost another $4 million.

Basilan army chief Colonel Alexander Aleo said the US army engineers and their equipment would be taken by boat to Basilan on Saturday. "We welcome this development and we wish them success in the projects they will do for the people of Basilan," Aleo said.

About 2,700 more US troops will take part in a separate two-week joint training exercise on the northern main island of Luzon beginning Monday. The bulk of the US troops are to arrive over the weekend.

Unlike in Basilan, the Luzon exercises will be held in confined military bases in the north. They will consist only of training missions including amphibious operations and night-flying skills.

Filipino communist guerrillas have warned they will attack US personnel who stray into their territories in Luzon.

Philippines president Gloria Arroyo on Friday said the growing US military presence in her country was a sign of strong bilateral ties.

"Today, the United States stands with the Philippines as a friend and ally in the fight against terrorism and poverty," Arroyo said.

Philippine Vice-President and concurrent Foreign Secretary Teofisto Guingona formally approved the deployment of the additional US troops after consultations with US Pacific Command chief Admiral Dennis Blair and US ambassador Francis Ricciardone, Golez said. The US troops already in the south have been providing training and advice for local soldiers hunting the Abu Sayyaf but are barred from engaging in combat themselves except in self-defense. US aircraft have been providing reconnaissance flights over Basilan to help in the hunt in the thickly-forested island.


sourc
e: THE TIMES OF INDIA , 21 Apr 2002


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