Thursday, August 23, 2007

Arroyo Visits Troops

Very nice of her. I wonder if she brought them Jolibee for lunch.

Arroyo visits southern Philippines to meet troops battling al-Qaida-linked militants

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo flew to the southern Philippines amid tight security Thursday to confer with the military's top brass and meet families of troops slain in recent battles with al-Qaida-linked militants.

Shortly after arriving at the military's Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga city, 860 kilometers (535 miles) south of Manila, Arroyo handed cash assistance to families of slain soldiers. She then went into a closed-door conference with security commanders, officials said.

Arroyo warned Tuesday the military offensives on nearby Basilan and Jolo islands may prompt militants to sow terror elsewhere in the country. She said she ordered the military and police to bolster security.

Hours later, however, a bomb exploded in a crowded square in Zamboanga, wounding 14 people. The bombing, carried out amid already-tight security in the city, may have been set off by the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group to divert the military's focus from the offensives, officials say.

The government will not ease off the campaign, Arroyo said. She also ordered officials to launch a "humanitarian offensive" on Basilan and Jolo to balance the military assault.

Arroyo was to have lunch with marines at their brigade camp on Basilan island.

U.S.-backed troops bombarded Muslim militant strongholds on the island on Sunday, a day after 15 marines and 40 militants were killed in fierce fighting, officials said.

The marines were killed when their unit attacked a jungle hide-out of the Abu Sayyaf near Basilan's remote Ungkaya Pukan township, sparking a daylong clash during which an air force pilot also died when his helicopter crashed at sea, the military said.

The military claimed about 40 insurgents were killed, including two commanders who allegedly took part in last month's beheadings of 10 marines on Basilan.

Police forces have been placed on full alert in the capital, Manila, and the southern Mindanao region, beefing up security in public areas and transport hubs.

The U.S. government has blacklisted the Abu Sayyaf — notorious for deadly bombings, beheadings and ransom kidnappings — as a terrorist organization.