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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 10:25 GMT
US takes terror war to Philippines
Soldiers from the elite Filipino rangers, who have been fighting the rebels
Manila says it lacks weaponry, not good soldiers
American and Philippine military forces have launched joint exercises which Washington says signal a new phase in the war on international terrorism.

[Filipino forces] will do the fighting, not the American soldiers

President Arroyo
The exercises, which will eventually involve 650 US troops, including special forces, are being staged close to the stronghold of the rebel Abu Sayyaf, a group which the US says has links to Osama Bin Laden.

Officially, the US soldiers will have no combat role during their stay; however there are misgivings in some quarters about where the military exercises might lead.

The local US charge d'affaires, Robert Fitts, told an official ceremony at an air base in the southern town of Zamboanga that the exercises would "help eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten Filipinos as well as the United States".

US solider greets his Philippine counterparts
US combat techniques are likely to be put firmly to the test

For six months or more, US trainers, including some from the special forces, will be instructing their Philippine counterparts in the latest techniques and gadgetry of counter-terrorism.

Those at least are the declared goals of their mission, the BBC's Simon Ingram in Zamboanga says.

Government troops have been battling unsuccessfully for years against a variety of insurgent groups in the dense and lawless jungles of the southern Philippines.

The most notorious of all is the Abu Sayyaf, bandits who claim to espouse the goal of an Islamic state and whom the Pentagon insists, without much evidence, have links to Osama Bin Laden.

The Filipino regional military commander, Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu, defended his forces' record in battling Abu Sayyaf but added that they were suffering from "feebleness in terms of modern weaponry".

'Insidious' objectives?

Critics say Washington's objectives are more insidious and that the presence of foreign forces violates the Philippine constitution.

"They [Filipino forces] will do the fighting, not the American soldiers," President Gloria Arroyo said during a visit to Canada this week.

  • Exercise involving 650 US troops to take place near Abu Sayyaf rebel bases
  • US accuses Abu Sayyaf of links to Osama Bin Laden
  • US instructors will train Philippine troops in counter-terrorist techniques

    Terror campaign: Where next?

  • Thus far, protests against the US deployment have been confined to the capital although there were warnings that an attempt might be made to disrupt Thursday's ceremony.

    Demonstrators turned out earlier near Zamboanga and on Wednesday several dozen students burnt a US flag outside the US embassy in Manila.

    But not all Filipinos are opposed to the presence of US troops.

    In the south, the majority Christian population are only too keen for the Americans to eradicate a security menace that has blighted the region's development, our correspondent says.

    One undeclared goal of the Americans is likely to be the liberation of an American couple kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf last May.

    They are being held on the rugged island of Basilan, where US combat techniques are likely to be put to a stern test in conditions that, for some observers, are uncomfortably reminiscent of the Vietnam war.

    American killed

    A US citizen has been shot dead in an ambush by unidentified gunmen on Mount Pinatubo, 90 km northwest of Manila.

    The killing, which occurred in an area where communist rebels are active, is not thought connected to the conflict in the south with Abua Sayyaf.
    Mount Pinatubo's crater lake
    Mount Pinatubo is one of the world's most spectacular volcanoes

    A German citizen who was trekking along with the American was also wounded in Wednesday's attack but managed to summon help through his mobile phone and was airlifted to safety.

    The body of the unnamed American was recovered on Thursday from near the volcano's crater.

    Last year, gunmen believed to be communist rebels opened fire on US servicemen taking part in military exercises on Mount Pinatubo.

    The BBC's Simon Ingram
    "Whether these rebels have a connection to Bin Laden is a moot point"
    Corino Antequisa, development worker
    "There will be more demonstrations"
    See also:

    31 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    America's new anti-terror front
    31 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Philippine press nervous about US presence
    31 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    In pictures: Philippines anti-terror war
    31 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    Army 'colluded' with Abu Sayyaf
    06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Guide to Philippines conflict
    01 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
    18 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
    US troops arrive in Basilan
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