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Philippines to Ask US to Continue Joint Military Exercises - 2002-06-22

The Philippine government plans to ask the United States to continue holding joint military exercises. However, an exercise now under way will end as scheduled next month.

Roilo Golez, President Arroyo's national security adviser, said a formal announcement on the plan to continue joint training will be made sometime next week. He said Philippine military leaders will discuss additional training Thursday at a conference with the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.

Mr. Golez said, however, that the current exercise will end as scheduled.

U.S. troops have been in the southern Philippines since February, taking part in an exercise called Baliktan 02-1 with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The exercises have focused on eliminating the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, which has been responsible for dozens of kidnappings and murders. "Baliktan 02-1, as already announced by the president, will be terminated by July 31," said Mr. Golez.

After that, Mr. Golez said, there will be planning sessions with the U.S. military to arrange a new series of Baliktan exercises.

The United States provided technical support and surveillance help over the past months that has helped the Philippine military put the Abu Sayyaf on the run. A few weeks ago, the military cornered several of the rebels, and freed American hostage Gracia Burnham. Her husband, Martin Burnham, and a Philippine nurse, Ediborah Yap, however, were killed in the clash.

Early Friday, the Philippine military encountered more rebels in boats at sea. In the fighting, a senior rebel leader, Abu Sabaya, was wounded, and may have been killed.

Mr. Golez said Abu Sabaya's body has not been found. "The search and recovery operation is continuing. I'm awaiting word, also," he said.

The Abu Sayyaf gang says it is fighting for a Muslim state in the southern Philippines. It is best known, however, for kidnapping people for ransom, including foreign tourists, and brutal killings.