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Philippines seeking U.S. aid against Islamic fighters

Rumsfeld and Arroyo
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld escorts Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into the Pentagon on Tuesday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo met with U.S. defense officials Tuesday to discuss support for the campaign against Islamic militants in her country.

U.S. military advisers already are aiding Filipino troops in their battle with the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla movement, an Islamic insurgency that U.S. officials link to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization.

"We have a strategic framework for fighting terrorism, and it is a framework our officials are discussing with the United States," Arroyo said. "Both countries are looking at this framework and looking at where the partnership in fighting terrorism domestically, regionally and globally can become more effective."

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Arroyo is scheduled to visit later Tuesday with President Bush, and military chiefs from the Philippines will meet with Adm. Dennis Blair, chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific region, this month, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Neither Rumsfeld nor Arroyo would give details of their discussion. Arroyo said she would like U.S. military equipment "if that's what is needed to make the partnership more efficient," and Rumsfeld said, "Those are the kind of things that need to be discussed and see what makes sense."

Rumsfeld told reporters Monday at the Pentagon that a U.S. team in the Philippines is "making an assessment and providing some advice and working with the Philippine troops."

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"There is no question but that there has been a good deal of interaction between the terrorists in the Philippines and al Qaeda and people in Iraq and people in other terrorist-sponsoring states, over the years," he said.

U.S. forces are fighting Afghanistan's Taliban militia and al Qaeda, which U.S. officials blame for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Arroyo said most contacts between al Qaeda and Abu Sayyaf came before 1995.

"In 1995, our police officers were able to arrest some people who were linked to both and uncovered documentary evidence that led to the conviction of the first bombers of the World Trade Center" in 1993, Arroyo said.

Abu Sayyaf
U.S. officials say Abu Sayyaf fighters are linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.  

"After the testimony that our policemen gave, the front organizations that we know of al Qaeda left the Philippines," she said. "I think they found the Philippines not comfortable for international terrorism."

Abu Sayyaf professes to fight for an Islamic state. Its main activity in recent years has been kidnappings for ransom. The group is holding an American couple and at least eight Filipinos hostage on Basilan island in the southern Philippines.

In addition, a splinter faction of the Moro National Liberation Front -- once the biggest Muslim secessionist group in the country -- reneged on its 1996 peace agreement with the government and attacked Filipino troops Monday on the southern island of Jolo. Reports that the MNLF faction is joining forces with Abu Sayyaf are likely to strengthen Arroyo's request for increased U.S. aid.

The Philippines were a major element in the U.S. Pacific presence for nearly a century. American forces captured the islands from Spain in 1898, put down a guerrilla campaign against American rule and established a U.S. colony there. In 1935, the islands became a self-governed commonwealth in preparation for independence.

The presence of major U.S. bases made the Philippines a target for Japanese forces during World War II. Japan occupied the islands in 1942 and were driven out in 1944. The Philippines won independence in 1946, but the U.S. military presence remained throughout the Cold War and supported Philippine governments against communist insurgencies. The last American installation closed in 1994.


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