PENTAGON OFFICIAL CONFIRMED COMBAT ROLE -- PIMENTEL  

Manila, Feb. 25, 2003 --Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. yesterday said Fox News, a US TV network, reported that a US official has confirmed that US troops will be deployed in Sulu to join actual combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf.

"This morning Fox News said Americans indeed will be sending 3,000 ... not all but some will engage in combat," he said.

Quoting the report attributed to Col. Jeff Davis who was identified as speaking for Pentagon, Pimentel said: "President Arroyo had already waived the requirement of the Constitution" banning foreign troops from engaging in combat operations on Philippine soil.

Malacaņang and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes denied the reports but the news confirmed the Palace stand.

"My fear is that if we just keep our mouth shut ... now the Americans are going to Sulu in search of Abu Sayyaf ... then they will start looking for another excuse ... and then it will be an unending search for terrorists ... that should not be tolerated," Pimentel said.

He said 98 percent of the population in Sulu are Muslims.

He also accused Reyes of selling out the country's interests to the Americans in the light of the announcement of Pentagon.

On the basis of the report, Pimentel said, "it means that someone is lying and the likelihood is that the lying is being done by our own DND. That's why I'm saying that Mr. Reyes had better explain fully how this situation came about."

"If he (Reyes) cannot rectify it, then he has no business staying as secretary of the defense department, the senator said."

Reyes met with US Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, chief of the US Pacific Command, in Honolulu yesterday to discuss plans on sending US troops in Sulu.

Reyes later was to fly to Washington for talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other US officials to discuss counterterrorism and other issues. (By JP LOPEZ, Malaya)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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