JANUARY 25, 2007 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo has asked neighboring countries to arrest Islamic militants fleeing a military campaign in Mindanao to help make Southeast Asia "terror-free."

In a statement yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo said that government troops "are closely coordinating with our neighbors in stepping up vigilance along our common borders to close the dragnet on Abu Sayyaf remnants on the run."

Mrs. Arroyo did not specify the countries concerned, but the Philippines has sea borders with Indonesia and Malaysia.

"The security of the Asia-Pacific lies in a terror-free Southeast Asia, stability in the Korean peninsula and a stable environment in the South China Sea," she said.

The military has scored a number of victories recently over the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, which has links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

Abu Sayyaf leader Khadaffy Janjalani died in a clash with troops in Jolo in September last year, while Abu Solaiman, another top leader of the militant Muslim group, was killed last week.

The Abu Sayyaf is responsible for several bombings and mass kidnappings of foreigners and Christians in Mindanao.

The group is included on the US State Department’s list of "foreign terrorist organizations."

With the deaths of Janjalani and Solaiman, the military has tightened the noose on Dulmatin and Umar Patek, the alleged masterminds of the 2002 deadly bombings in Bali, Indonesia.

Brig. Gen. Ruben Rafael, Task Force Comet commander, said the two Indonesians, along with Radulan Sahiron, are still on the run in Jolo.

The Bali bombings left more than 200 people dead, mostly Australian tourists.

Earlier reports said that Dulmatin had already slipped out of Sulu. But there had also been rumors of Janjalani’s escape from the military dragnet after his September fatal encounter with the military.

Rafael was in Manila to join the Sulu-based troops who were honored at Malacañang for their role in the deaths of Janjalani and other Abu Sayyaf leaders. — With Jaime Laude, James Mananghaya, AFP

Bush adviser arrives in RP By Rainier Allan Ronda The Philippine Star 01/25/2007

US State Department Undersecretary for Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal I yesterday morning for her three-day visit here.

Hughes was welcomed at the NAIA by US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and other US embassy officials when she arrived via Cathay Pacific flight CX 901 from Hong Kong which landed at 11 a.m.

"It’s nice to be here," Hughes told airport media who covered her arrival at the airport.

It was learned that Hughes is scheduled to visit Sulu province today in Mindanao, where US troops are now stationed and waiting for the resumption of the "Balikatan" joint exercises with the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

It will be recalled that the US suspended the bilateral military exercises at the height of the custody battle over convicted rapist US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

The US embassy recently issued a statement saying the exercise, the 23rd in the series, will resume on Feb. 18.

In Zamboanga City, US soldiers stationed in Sulu will be adopting tough security for Hughes’ visit today to the war-torn island province, which is a known hotbed of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

"An appropriate level of security for a high level functionary will be accorded by our forces there," said Maj. John Redfield, public affairs officer of the US Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P).

Redfield said Hughes will be interacting with the American forces assigned in Sulu and the Filipino soldiers they are conducting training exercises with.

Hughes, as undersecretary for State public diplomacy and public affairs and one of US President George W. Bush’s advisers in charge of improving the US image abroad amid the war on terror, wants to personally commend the Filipino soldiers.

"She wants to congratulate Gen. (Ruben) Rafael and the soldiers for their success in neutralizing terrorist personalities in Sulu island," Redfield said.

Rafael is the head of the Joint Special Task Force Comet, whose forces include the soldiers from the Philippine Army and Marines who are based in Sulu.

The soldiers in Sulu were credited last week for the neutralization of key Abu Sayyaf leaders — including Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and the group’s spokesman, Jainal Antel Sali Jr. alias Abu Solaiman, who was killed by Special Forces operatives.

The joint military force also prevented Asia’s most wanted and JI bomber Dulmatin from escaping Sulu when his advance team led by JI member Gufran and five Abu Sayyaf henchmen plotting Dulmatin’s escape route were killed off Tawi-Tawi island earlier this month.

Hughes will also inspect some of the humanitarian projects implemented by the US forces and the various projects funded by the US government through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). — With Roel Pareño

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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