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US Anti-Terrorism Advisers Arrive in Southern Philippines - 2001-10-18

U.S. anti-terrorism advisers have arrived in the southern Philippines to help train the Philippine military to defeat the Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebel group, which may have possible links with terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

U.S. military advisors are now in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga to provide key training to local army troops fighting Abu Sayyaf Muslim rebels. U.S. embassy officials in Manila say the advisors will not be armed and will not participate in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf, which has been holding an American couple among the hostages seized in May.

Robert Fitts, charges d'affaires of the U.S. embassy, says consultants are also expected to arrive in about two weeks to "strategize against terrorists." The U.S. Commander for Pacific Forces Admiral Dennis Blair is also scheduled to visit Manila in November for talks with defense officials.

The arrival of the U.S. advisors comes amid a stepped up offensive against the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Basilan island. After months of pursuit, the Philippine military has yet to capture the group's top leaders. Wednesday, the military said that Abu Sayyaf leader, Khadaffy Janjalani, has escaped from a military cordon.

The Abu Sayyaf, which claims to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in southern Philippines, has vague links with suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

The group has been responsible for a number of high profile kidnappings of foreign nationals. In May, the Abu Sayyaf raided a southern Philippine resort and captured 20 people, including three Americans. One of the American hostages has been killed, and the Abu Sayyaf has threatened to kill the remaining two Americans if the government does not back-off from its military operations. The government considers the Abu Sayyaf as "bandits" and refuses to negotiate with them.