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US Pacific Commander in Philippines Security Talks

The head of U.S. military forces in the Pacific region is in the Philippines for talks on regional security and the growing fight against international terrorism. The visit comes two days before military commanders of 10 southeast Asian nations are to meet in the Philippine capital.

The commander of U.S. Pacific forces, Admiral Dennis Blair, met Tuesday with Philippine armed forces Chief-of-Staff Diomedio Villaneuva to discuss regional security and the campaign against terrorism.

General Villaneuva said the two commanders were working on a five-year plan related to the 50-year-old mutual defense accord between the two countries.

The admiral's trip comes a week before Philippine President Gloria Arroyo travels to Washington for talks with President Bush. The American commander says he expects Ms. Arroyo and Mr. Bush to finalize details of what type of assistance the United States can provide Manila in combating terrorism. The Philippines has given strong support to the U.S.-led attacks on suspected terrorist targets in Afghanistan. The United States has also sent military advisers to the southern Philippines to help officials deal with Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, who have used kidnapping as a tool to further their aims.

The Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for an Islamic state in the region, but Philippine authorities say it's a criminal gang that survives by extorting ransom.

Philippine officials say they need better equipment, in particular helicopters, patrol boats and night-vision equipment, in order to dismantle the group.

Before wrapping up his trip, Admiral Blair is scheduled to visit the southern city of Zamboanga, that is a base for the Philippines southern command.

Military commanders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, meanwhile, are preparing to meet Thursday in Manila to draw up plans to boost regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

ASEAN heads-of-state last week strongly condemned terrorism during a summit in Brunei. They called on member nations to share intelligence, set up joint border patrols, and work to choke off funding for terrorist groups.