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Arroyo: US Troops Will Not Fight Guerrillas - 2003-03-05

The president of the Philippines says U.S. troops will not go into combat against Islamic separatists in the southern part of the country. The president's comments came as she visited the site of a bombing on the island of Mindanao, which Philippine authorities blame on the separatists.

President Gloria Arroyo says she is determined to bring to justice those who carried out the bombing at the Davao City airport. The blast Tuesday killed more than 20 people.

At the same time, however, the Philippine president said U.S. troops would not directly join the fight against Islamic separatists in the Philippines. She said Wednesday that U.S. counter-terrorism assistance is valuable - but it is up to Philippine troops to do the fighting.

Several hundred U.S. Special Forces troops are in the Philippines, in the southern city of Zamboanga, about 400 kilometers west of Davao. They are training the Philippine army in counterterrorism techniques - to defeat the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

The guerrillas are based on Jolo Island in the southern Sulu archipelago.

Controversy erupted recently about the role of U.S. forces in the Philippines. Officials in Washington have said the U.S. troops would take part in combat operations alongside Philippine forces. The Philippine constitution, however, bans foreign troops from combat on Philippine soil.

Roberto Copco, is President Arroyo's deputy chief of staff. He says the government has no intention of violating the constitution and is merely fulfilling its pledges to the international community to fight terrorism. "We have a standing agreement with the U.S. government to help us in our campaign against terrorism - in the same manner as we are helping the U.S. and other countries in the global campaign against terrorism," he said.

Last year, U.S. troops trained with Philippine soldiers for six months in the southern Philippines. Despite several battles during and after the joint training, the Philippine forces failed to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf.

The guerrillas say they are fighting to create a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. They are best known, however, for a series of kidnappings and brutal murders. The United States considers them a terrorist organization, and says Abu Sayyaf has some links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.