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Philippines Approves Deployment of US Sailors - 2002-04-19

The Philippine government has approved the deployment of more than 300 American sailors to undertake civic projects in the southern Philippines. Thousands more Americans arrive soon for another military exercise in the northern part of the country.

Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez says the 340 naval engineers will arrive in the next few days. They have been waiting on a U.S. navy ship off the Philippine coast for formal approval for their mission on Basilan island.

Mr. Golez says the additional troops will only handle infrastructure projects and will not be involved in combat. They are expected to assist Philippine military engineers in building roads, bridges and deep-water wells in one of the country's poorest provinces.

Mr. Golez recently said U.S. troops had spotted several construction projects they wanted to do.

"The U.S. military personnel who have gone around Basilan have noted that one of the main reasons why there is poverty in the area is because of the very decrepit conditions of the infrastructure there. So they would like to do something about this," he said.

More than 600 U.S. troops are now in the southern Philippines to participate in a joint military exercise targeted at the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group hiding in the area. The deployment is part of Washington's multi-million dollar military assistance package given to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after the September 11 terror attacks.

The Abu Sayyaf holds two Americans and a Philippine nurse captive.

Sunday, more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers begin another joint military exercise in the northern island of Luzon. The exercise is aimed at helping the former American colony improve its ability to participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions.