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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 06:35 GMT 07:35 UK
Philippines approves more US troops
US soldier in the Philippines
US troops may only shoot in self-defence
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has sanctioned the deployment of hundreds more American troops for the country's troubled south.

Several hundred American soldiers are already stationed on the island of Basilan assisting local forces against the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, believed to be linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Anti-US troop protests in Manila
Protesters say the stationing of US troops is an attack on Philippines sovereignty
Thousands more US soldiers are also in the Philippines for joint military exercises.

There were daily protests when the training manoeuvres started in January with Filipinos concerned that Americans might violate laws on foreign troops by becoming involved in combat on Philippine soil.

Officials stressed that the latest additions to US forces in the southern Philippines will not be involved in combat.

President Arroyo said about 300 military engineers will join the 660 American soldiers helping local troops hunt down Abu Sayyaf guerrillas who are holding an American missionary couple and a Filipina nurse hostage.

'Friends and allies'

Mrs Arroyo did not say when the engineers would arrive in Basilan but diplomatic sources said they were already near Philippine waters.

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

A Filipino soldier
Joint exercises in the north are training Filipino soldiers in night-flying and amphibious operations
National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said the engineers would be engaged only in "civic action and medical services" - building infrastructure and providing other assistance to local communities.

After the US troops in Basilan "saw the sad state of infrastructure [there], they decided to bring in this civic action group", Mr Golez said.

The US had already spent $3m on projects in Basilan, he added, emphasising that the community welcomed the assistance.

Specialist training

US aircraft have flown reconnaissance missions in the south in the search for the rebels.

American troops may provide training and advice for local soldiers but are barred from fighting except in self-defence.

Another 2,700 American troops are also due to arrive in the Philippines to take part in the second phase of the 2002 "Balikatan" joint exercise in the northern island of Luzon next week.

The joint drills will consist only of training missions including amphibious operations and night-flying skills.

The BBC's John McLean reports from Manila
"It will help reinforce the idea amongst the local population that the armed forces are on their side"
See also:

15 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
US commander visits Philippines
12 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Negotiations for US hostages'
25 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines rejects rebel deal
19 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Eyewitness: Philippines' lawless island
07 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
US hostages shown on Philippines TV
02 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
US military faces Philippines challenge
06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Guide to Philippines conflict
19 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Estrada supporters out on streets
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