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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 08:24 GMT
US troops arrive in Basilan
US troops landed at Clark airport in the northern Philippines on Thursday
Troops landed at Clark airport in the northern Philippines
A spokesman for the military in the Philippines has said an undisclosed number of US troops have flown to the southern island of Basilan ahead of what are described as joint military exercises.

The spokesman Major Noel Deyoyato said the American troops met local commanders and logistics officers.

Students shout slogans in front of the US embassy in Manila, 16 January 2002
Many Filipinos oppose US involvement
There is a growing debate in the Philippines over the deployment there of the US forces - a total of about 660 are expected to arrive.

The Philippines constitution bars foreign troops from operating in the country except for training purposes.

President Gloria Arroyo defended the move on US television, saying the American troops were in the Philippines to provide training, and not to fight Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels linked to Osama bin Laden.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier this week as many as 250 US troops were already in the Philippines, but he said they were there for "logistics purposes" only.

Deployment doubts

But the president of the Philippine senate, Franklin Drilon, on Thursday called for an inquiry into the exercises to determine whether the American presence is unconstitutional.

Martin and Gracia Burnham
The rebels are holding two US hostages
The US is also a former colonial power, and nationalist sentiment in the country is opposed to US involvement.

John McLean, the BBC's Manila correspondent, says many Filipinos suspect the US wants to open a second front in its war on terrorism.

He says there is speculation that the joint exercises are a cover for a US operation to rescue an American couple kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf.

US hostages

Martin and Gracia Burnham, from Kansas, were seized from a luxury tourist resort last May. It is thought they are being held in jungle on Basilan island, along with a Filipino nurse.

Our correspondent says people's suspicions about the US have been reinforced because the training exercises will include live firing exercises on Basilan.

The Abu Sayyaf is made up of a few hundred fighters who say they are fighting for independence for the country's Muslim minority.

However, their main activity is kidnapping for profit.

 VOTE RESULTS
Should US troops be deployed in the Philippines?

Yes
 63.27% 

No
 36.73% 

1846 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

14 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
US troops join war on Abu Sayyaf
06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Guide to Philippines conflict
14 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
US troops land in south Philippines
08 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine troops clash with rebels
28 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
US holds firm on Philippines hostages
23 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Canadian hostage freed in Philippines
11 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Negotiating with the Abu Sayyaf
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