US FORCES EYE RP TO REPLACE JAPAN FOR TRAINING

Camp Aguinaldo, Jan. 22, 2003 - American forces in Asia are looking for possible alternative training sites in the Philippines amid growing restrictions on the American military in Japan, a military official said Tuesday.

"I understand in my talks with the Americans that their world, in a sense, is getting smaller everyday," said Brigadier General Emmanuel Teodosio, deputy chief of staff for education and training.

He said Japan, which hosts tens of thousands of US troops, has imposed a law wherein the American soldiers could only train "in a small area."

"It takes a heavy toll on nature, so they want to rotate (training sites) to give the (plant life) time to recover. They don't have that luxury in Japan anymore," he told reporters. He said the Americans also faced the same problems "in Hawaii and in Thailand" where they also conduct military exercises.

"So they are on the lookout for suitable training areas, and the fact that we are allowing them to come over to train with our troops, they are also benefitting from it. They have the opportunity to maneuver their water craft, their amphibian vehicles."

The two countries have a half century-old mutual defense pact. Until 1992, the Philippines hosted thousands of troops at the major military facilities of Subic Bay and Clark.

"They see the Philippines, especially if they will be involved in any conflict in Asia for example or any tropical country, as the best place to train," Teodosio said.

He added: "They look forward to be allowed to come over to the Philippines and be allowed to train at our training facilities."

Teodosio said a small group of about US Special Forces advisers are set to start counter-terrorist training for 18 companies of Filipino infantry in the southern port city of Zamboanga on the second week of February.

An advance party arrived in Zamboanga on Saturday.

Between 12 and 14 Filipino air force pilots at a military base in the central port of Cebu at the same time, he said, adding that the training "may go beyond this year." In all, at least 1,800 Filipino troops would be involved.

Allowing the trainers to come to the Philippines is more "cost-effective" than the traditional Filipino practice of sending small numbers of Filipino officers to military schools in the United States, Teodosio said.

Nearly a thousand US troops deployed in the central and southern Philippines last year for joint anti-terrorist training that focused on the Abu Sayyaf, a small Muslim guerrilla group with alleged links to the al Qaeda network of Islamic militants blamed for deadly attacks on US interests.

Teodosio said that for this year's training, the US forces "requested us to arrange for the availability of at least a 2,000-hectare (4,940-acre) area."

The general also said the US trainers would be accompanied by an unspecified security contingent.

A US soldier was killed in a bomb blast at a Zamboanga pub in October. The Philippines blamed the attack on Islamic militant Abu Sayyaf group, which is allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda network.


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