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Saturday, 20 April, 2002, 09:47 GMT 10:47 UK
US troops arrive on hostage island
The first batch of US engineers arrives on Basilan island in the southern Philippines
The engineers will work on a variety of projects
Hundreds of US army engineers have arrived on the Philippine island of Basilan to bolster Manila's efforts to hunt down a Muslim kidnap gang said to be linked to the al-Qaeda terror network.

Our mission here is to train, advise and assist the Philippine military to beat terrorism in the southern Philippines

Brigadier-General Donald Wurster
The arrival of the 300 engineers brings the number of US troops in the southern Philippines to more than 1,000.

They will build landing strips and pave roads so that Philippine troops and supplies can be moved around more quickly in operations against the Abu Sayyaf group, Pentagon officials said.

However, given Philippine sensitivity over the return of the former colonial power, the Americans are not supposed to do any actual fighting.

"Our mission here is to train, advise and assist the Philippine military to beat terrorism in the southern Philippines," said Brigadier-General Donald Wurster, commander of US forces there.

The engineers will also dig wells in impoverished parts of Basilan and work on other civic projects.

The aim, says the BBC's John McLean in Manila, is to win the hearts and minds of the local population, some of whom - willingly or unwillingly - support Abu Sayyaf.

Al-Qaeda links

A US missionary couple and a Filipina nurse have been held hostage by Abu Sayyaf rebels for more than 10 months on Basilan.

The United States has linked Abu Sayyaf to the al-Qaeda network and its leader Osama Bin Laden, who it suspects of masterminding the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Anti-US troop protests in Manila
Protesters say the stationing of US troops is an attack on Philippines sovereignty
A Pentagon spokesman said the engineers, known as Seabees, would be deployed for three months - at a cost of around $3.9m.

The engineers were guarded by US marines as they disembarked from the USS Germantown, a 184.5-metre (609-foot) landing ship off Basilan.

They unloaded bulldozers and other heavy equipment, which was then taken to a Philippine army camp on the outskirts of Isabela, the island's capital.

See also:

19 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines approves more US troops
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
02 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
US military faces Philippines challenge
06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Guide to Philippines conflict
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