Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US concerned about group in Philippines linked to al-Qaeda

REUTERS AND AP , MANILAAND ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES

The US is concerned about the presence in the Philippines of an al-Qaeda-linked militant group and will help the Philippine military in its efforts to tackle it, a US commander said yesterday.

The US has promised the Philippines close to US$100 million in security help over a five-year period as part of long-term efforts to develop Manila's capability in fighting militancy.

"We are concerned of the presence of JI in the southern Philippines," Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command, told reporters, referring to the Jemaah Islamiah militant group.

The Jemaah Islamiah, seen by many security experts as al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian wing, has been accused of involvement in several bomb attacks, including the blasts on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali in October 2002 that killed 202 people.

"It is a group that threatens the peace and stability of the citizens here in the Philippines and Southeast Asia," said Fargo on arrival at the Philippine military's headquarters in Zamboanga City in the island of Mindanao.

Philippine security officials say up to 40 Jemaah Islamiah members are hiding in the mountains of Mindanao, helping train members of two Muslim rebel groups -- the small but radical Abu Sayyaf and the larger and more organized Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Fargo said the US recognized efforts by the Philippines and its Southeast Asian neighbors, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, to fight terrorism, but more needed to be done.

"There is a lot of additional work to be done. This is a long-term effort," he said.

Fargo said the US military would stay committed to the Philippines, which is the largest recipient of US military aid in the region.

"The US military role to the Philippines continues to be to train, assist, and provide intelligence in order to strengthen their efforts against terrorism," he said.

US soldiers will train Filipino troops next month in the southern Philippines as part of Washington's ongoing efforts to help combat terrorism in the country, the US Pacific commander said yesterday.

Admiral Thomas Fargo, who arrived in Zamboanga yesterday, promised to continue to provide training and intelligence to aid Manila's fight against terrorism.

"This is your fight against those that threaten your citizens and their peace and stability," Fargo told a news conference.

"We're glad to help," he said.

The US military started arming and training Filipino soldiers battling Muslim extremists in the southern Philippines two years ago.The exercises were credited with helping to cripple the Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group linked to the al-Qaeda terror network, on Basilan island.

The new round of combat training will start next month at a camp in Zamboanga, a bustling southern port city where US-led training sessions have been held in the past, officials said.

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