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Philippine Lawmakers Concerned About Role of US Troops - 2002-06-03

Some Philippine lawmakers are raising concern about the possibility U.S. troops could widen their role in an anti-terror military exercise against the Muslim-extremist group Abu Sayyaf.

Visiting Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the United States is open to keeping American soldiers in the southern Philippines beyond the joint military exercise slated to end in July.

1,000 American soldiers are training Philippine troops to fight the Abu Sayyaf, which Washington links to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

There is also talk of having U.S. troops accompany the Philippine military on its patrols.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told a radio program she is in favor of sending U.S. soldiers with company-size groups of the Philippine army.

This would bring the Americans closer to the frontlines of the Philippine battle against the Abu Sayyaf.

The proposal has raised concerns from some lawmakers. Apolinario Lozada, chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, told VOA it could touch on constitutional matters and may require congressional approval. "If the activity would mean another activity outside the terms of reference agreed upon, I think it would cause problems because that would mean taking into consideration provisions of our Constitution," he said.

Philippine law prohibits foreign troops from engaging in combat. Mr. Wolfowitz says U.S. troops will not be involved in fighting, because the intention is to increase the capability of Philippine soldiers to fight the Abu Sayyaf themselves.

The Abu Sayyaf is best known for its kidnapping for ransom schemes. The group has been holding an American missionary couple and a Philippine nurse for more than a year.

Last week, in an effort to bring more pressure to bear on the rebels, the United States posted a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of five top Abu Sayyaf leaders.