Manila, Feb. 7, 2003 - President Arroyo said yesterday she felt convinced by the disclosure made on Wednesday by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the United Nations (UN) Security Council linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to international terrorist organizations.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, stressed that the development would not prompt the Philippines to send combat troops to help the US in disarming the Iraqi strongman.

"We will not send combat troops to Iraq. We are not fighting the Iraqis for America but we remain an active member of the global coalition against terrorism," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the evidence presented by Powell before the UN body "challenges our role as a responsible member of the world community."

"We have seen the danger of having weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those who have joined cause with terrorists," she said.

The President said the information disclosed by Powell on the link between the Iraqi leader and international terrorists was alarming since even countries who remained neutral like Indonesia also end up as victims of terrorism, citing the bomb attack on Bali last year which killed scores of foreigners and injured hundreds.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said the evidence submitted by Powell was clear that Iraq failed to comply with UN Resolution 1441 to disarm itself of alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Seen altogether, Ople said the details of Powell's presentation "amounted to a very convincing one that indeed the Iraqi regime has failed to comply" with the demands of the UN resolution.

Ople, however, did not elaborate on the Philippine position on the US-Iraq conflict.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will present its recommendation to the NSC, which will convene on Feb. 14 to take up the issue.

Although Mrs. Arroyo indicated that no combat troops would be sent to Iraq, she said this does not preclude the possibility that the NSC will later consider sending troops to beef up a UN peacekeeping force and medical contingent for humanitarian missions.

"I believe in cuentas-claras in setting boundaries. When I say we're not sending combat troops... let's find out first what the international coalition requires, what's Congress comfortable with," she said.

In a press briefing after Mrs. Arroyo made her speech, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the Powell report to the UN justifies the Philippine support to the UN Security Council Resolution 1441 for Iraq to disarm its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

He said the Philippines has an obligation to support world peace and efforts to fight terrorism.

"We cannot be fence sitters because we are also victims of the al-Qaeda which is linked to the Abu Sayyaf locally, and to Saddam Hussein internationally," Bunye pointed out. (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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