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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 09:37 GMT
US troops land in south Philippines
US cargo plane on Basilan island, November 2001
The US has been advising the Philippines military
US troops have arrived in the southern Philippines in the latest secretive visit following a deal between the two countries to work together in the fight against terrorism.

US military advisors have made a number of trips to the Philippines to train troops in their hunt for the Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf.

We can't say what their purpose is

Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Servando
The US has linked the Abu Sayyaf with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, suspected of carrying out the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

News of the latest US visit - described by a military spokesman as "sensitive" - came amid rising expectations that the Philippine military was about to mount a mission to rescue two US hostages and a Filipino held by the rebels.

Martin and Gracia Burnham
The Philippines hopes to free the Burnhams for Christmas
Martian and Gracia Burnham, Christian missionaries from Witchita, Kansas, were snatched from a western Philippines tourist resort in May along with about 17 Filipinos who have since been killed or released for ransom.

The Burnhams were taken to the Abu Sayyaf stronghold of Basilan island, where they are being held with nurse Deborah Yap.

A third American captured with them, Guillermo Sobero from California, was found beheaded.

'Zeroed in'

The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a separate Islamic state, but kidnapping has been its main activity.

Abu Sayyaf rebel
The US links the Abu Sayyaf with al-Qaeda
An unspecified number of US soldiers arrived by cargo plane at Edwin Andrews air base, close to Zamboanga city, on Friday. They are members of "Special Operations Command" of the Hawaii-based US Pacific Command, said Lieutenant Colonel Danilo Servando.

"We can't say what their purpose is," he said.

Two groups of US military advisers made preliminary visits to Zamboanga city and Basilan island earlier this month and in October to assess barracks and training facilities.

On Thursday a senior Philippine military commander said troops were closing in on the Abu Sayyaf faction holding the Burnhams and hoped to rescue the Americans in a few days.

"We have zeroed in on our objective. We hope and pray we will really attain this objective," said Lieutenant-General Roy Cimatu.

Soldiers pursuing the rebels have tied yellow ribbons around the their guns, using the well-known symbol of homecoming

"This is a reminder to our soldiers about the necessity of conducting the safe rescue of the hostages so that they can all go back to their families come Christmas," said the general.

See also:

06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Guide to Philippines conflict
28 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
US holds firm on Philippines hostages
15 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines hostages 'suffering'
02 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Manila rejects talks with kidnappers
10 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
US bolsters Manila's rebel crackdown
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
28 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Filipino rebel group claim kidnappings
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