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Manila sends extra 2,000 troops to hunt militants

Written by: Staff
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MANILA, Dec 4 (Reuters) The Philippines sent an additional 2,000 Marines to the southwestern island of Jolo to bolster an offensive against Muslim rebels Abu Sayyaf sheltering members of regional militant group Jemaah Islamiah.

Since AugUST 1, about 6,000 troops have been fighting several hundred Muslim rebels in the latest bid to flush out Islamic militants on Jolo, a remote Abu Sayyaf stronghold in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.

''We need fresh legs in the hunt for our high value targets,'' Lieutenant-Colonel Ariel Caculitan, a Marine spokesman, told reporters a day after the 2nd Marine Brigade arrived.

''The arrival of fresh Marines on Jolo would boost efforts in cornering and finishing off these terrorists.'' The Abu Sayyaf's leader, Khaddafy Janjalani, is believed to be hiding on Jolo with two Indonesians suspected of carrying out the 2002 Bali bombings after they were driven out of nearby Mindanao island by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The MILF, the country's largest Muslim rebel group, is in stop-start peace talks with the government and has agreed to help troops fighting other militants.

Nearly 20 soldiers had been killed on Jolo. An estimated 50 rebels were also believed to have died but only 13 bodies had been found in sporadic fighting on the island's interior, the military said.

With small US commando teams providing intelligence to Philippine troops on the ground, Philippine security forces were confident they would soon corner senior Abu Sayyaf commanders.

The Philippine government, supported by Washington, wants to stop its southern islands from being used as bases by Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for the bombing of a ferry near Manila in 2004 that killed more than 100 people.

REUTERS SSC DS1703

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