Fifteen foreign military attaches have been visiting the southern Philippines to discuss ways to help the Philippine army fight rebel attacks in the area. The visit comes amid a major army offensive in during which several dozen rebels have been killed in the past month and a half-dozen have surrendered.
The southern commander of the Philippine military, Lieutenant-General Roy Cimatu, Wednesday told reporters the military attaches visited the city of Zamboanga, 900 kilometers south of Manila, to assess how their governments can help the fight against terrorism.
The attaches represent 11 countries, including regional neighbors Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, India and New Zealand. They also included other allies, like Britain, France, China, Japan, South Korea and the United States. The visit comes as a first group of U.S. military counter-terrorism experts arrives in the southern Philippines to provide equipment and training to the military.
The Philippine military is fighting guerrillas of the Abu Sayyaf group, which says it seeks to create an independent Islamic state in southern Philippines. The government says the group is a criminal gang that engages primarily in kidnapping for ransom schemes.
The Abu Sayyaf operates on the nearby islands of Jolo and Basilan. It has kidnapped dozens of hostages, some of whom have been exchanged for ransom. Others have been executed, including a U.S. citizen whose beheaded remains were found and identified earlier this month.
The group continues to hold hostage nine Philippine residents and two U.S. missionaries, seized last May in a raid on a resort. The group has reportedly been under intense pressure in recent weeks by the Philippine military, which has sworn to liquidate it by the end of next month.
The Abu Sayyaf has been linked to the al-Qaida group whose leader, Osama bin-Laden, is wanted for the attacks in the United States on September 11.
Experts note the founder of Abu Sayyaf fought with Osama bin Laden during the Afghan war and the group received funds and training from al-Qaida in the early 1990s. Philippine experts say there is no evidence of any links in recent years, but this is disputed by some foreign based analysts.