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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 16:22 GMT 17:22 UK
US bolsters Manila's rebel crackdown
Fighters from the Abu Sayyaf rebel group
The US believes the Abu Sayyaf has Bin Laden links
The United States is to send a military team to the Philippines to assist Manila in its campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, a militant Muslim outfit believed to be linked to Osama Bin Laden.

The US team will provide training to Filipino troops, equipment and intelligence, said Philippines national security advisor Roilo Golez.

We see a heightened co-operation between the Philippines and the United States by way of providing to us special equipment to fight Abu Sayyaf, training and sharing of intelligence information

Roilo Golez, national security advisor
But he ruled out any direct involvement of US troops in the campaign against the Abu Sayyaf, which is currently holding 17 hostages - including an American couple - on the southern island of Basilan.

The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a separate Islamic state in the south of the Philippines, but it is mainly involved in kidnapping for ransom.

Bin Laden links

Philippine military officials are convinced that the Abu Sayyaf has received arms, training and other logistical support from Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.

They say that the network first set up links with the Abu Sayyaf in the early 1990s, and that recent kidnappings were "part of the fingerprints of the Al-Qaeda".

Manila has deployed thousands of troops to Basilan, where the guerrillas have been holding their hostages for more than four months, but with limited success.

Filipino troops on the island of Basilan
Bad weather has hindered the army's recent offensive
Mr Golez, however, denied a New York newspaper report that the US was coming into the Philippines to launch "covert and overt military actions" against the separatist group as part of its international war on terrorism.

"The Americans shall help by way of extending to us additional special equipment, additional training and probably a sharing of intelligence information," he said.

"There is no possibility that the Americans could be conducting covert or overt military action using their own troops because this is impossible under the Philippine constitution."

Hostage racket

The Abu Sayyaf achieved notoriety last year when it kidnapped 21 Western tourists and Asian workers from a Malaysian resort. It later released all but one in exchange for a ransom of million of dollars.

In May, they seized three Americans and 17 Filipinos from a western Philippines resort.

Although some of the Filipino hostages have either escaped or been freed, it is thought that the Abu Sayyaf have killed one of the three Americans, Guillermo Sobero of California.

Skeletal remains, thought to be those of Mr Sobero, were found over the weekend.

See also:

24 Sep 01 | Americas
Bush calls halt to terror funding
05 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Hostages rescued in the Philippines
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
01 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
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