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US Warns of Terrorist Training Camps in Southern Philippines - 2004-07-06


In a strongly worded speech Tuesday the U.S. ambassador to Manila said terrorist training camps in the Philippines threaten Southeast Asia and the United States wants to see the militants driven out. U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone says the camps, located on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, are run by the radical Islamic terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah.

Speaking to reporters in Manila Tuesday, the ambassador says the situation presents a global danger.

"The training that they might be doing in the southern Philippines is portable, certainly if that activity is going on then there are possibilities to further erode the peace and order situation, not only in the southern Philippines but in broader areas as well in the country and in the region," said U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kelley.

Experts believe JI has close ties with al-Qaida and it was responsible for the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali, which killed 202 people.

The Philippine defense minister acknowledged at least 40 JI militants are still at large in central Mindanao. Most, he says, are from neighboring Indonesia.

Philippine officials announced Monday that U.S. troops will provide special combat training to local soldiers. The United States is aiming to strengthen the Philippine campaign against Muslim and communist guerillas and help them track down the JI terrorists.

About 1,000 U.S. soldiers were deployed to the Southern Philippines to train their Philippine counterparts in 2002 to combat Muslim extremists. It was the second major deployment in the U.S.-led war against terrorism after the September 11th attacks on the United States.

The largest Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF is holding peace talks with the Philippine government. The group denies accusations that it is aiding terrorists in the south.

But the United States questioned the pace of those negotiations and the MILF's sincerity.

"The ambassador expressed some concern that the current leadership of the MILF was not taking advantage of the opportunity to really move forward to peacefully push the causes they represent," said embassy spokeswoman Karen Kelley.

Jemaah Islamiyah wants to create a pan Islamic state uniting Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and the Southern Philippines.

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