JANUARY 29, 2007 (STAR) US President George W. Bush praised President Arroyo for her government’s ongoing offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, which led to the deaths of its chief Khadaffy Janjalani and other terrorists.

US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said on Friday Bush telephoned Mrs. Arroyo, who was in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, "to thank her for the strong support in the global war on terror’’ and to promise stronger US cooperation.

"The (US) president commended President Arroyo for their recent action against the Abu Sayyaf group,’’ said Johndroe.

In Davos, President Arroyo’s spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the call from the US president showed the administration is on the right track in the global war on terror.

"George congratulated Gloria on a fantastic leadership in dealing with those who want to do us and our people harm," Bunye said.

He said Mrs. Arroyo also thanked Bush for the US support for her administration’s crackdown on the Abu Sayyaf, which is on the US watchlist of global terrorist organizations. Abu Sayyaf also has links to Indonesia-based Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and to the al-Qaeda global terror network, which masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks on the US.

Mrs. Arroyo is a staunch supporter of the US-led war on terror. She readily offered Philippine air space and military camps for the Americans’ use after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The US role in the ongoing offensive against the Abu Sayyaf is limited to technical, intelligence, training, and weapons although some US soldiers have been involved in evacuating wounded Filipino soldiers from isolated battlefields.

Bunye said the telephone conversation between the two leaders was "friendly and cordial" and that they addressed each other on a first-name basis.

Bush, Bunye said, called the Arroyo administration’s efforts in Mindanao a "great paradigm for peace" and "something that we can share with the world."

The military scored major victories against the bandit group with the killing of its chief planner and spokesman, Abu Solaiman, this month and the confirmation of the death of Janjalani in September last year through recent DNA tests on his exhumed remains.

When asked at the WEF panel about the lessons the Bush administration could learn from Mrs. Arroyo’s Mindanao approach, she declined to give details but said the US was cooperating with other countries in helping Mindanao achieve peace and development.

But as far as Iraq is concerned, Mrs. Arroyo said, "I don’t think I am equipped enough to be able to second-guess how peace and stability can be brought about in Iraq except to say that we have a very successful model in Mindanao."

"We hope that by my sharing it here in Davos and by sharing it in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the East Asian summits, then others can start thinking about what elements can be applied to other quests for peace in other parts of the world," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Mindanao approach was a combination of "soft and hard power" and "I think it can be really applied anywhere in the world."

ASEAN to benefit

Mrs. Arroyo said recent developments showed the breakthroughs the government, in cooperation with other countries, achieved in containing the Abu Sayyaf and the JI in Mindanao.

"Just recently, you might have heard or seen in the news about how we have decimated the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and also neutralized very important elements of the JI in the Philippines," Mrs. Arroyo said at a WEF panel discussion on the future of ASEAN.

"Their lair has become smaller because our grasp of peace is wider in Mindanao," she said.

With Mrs. Arroyo at the more-than-an-hour long panel discussion were Prime Ministers Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia and Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam.

She said it was a good opportunity for her to inform the international community about the inroads in the region’s fight against terrorism.

She lauded the Malaysian prime minister for his country’s mediation in the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the biggest Muslim secessionist group in the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo said that by talking to the Muslim rebel group and ensuring an unhampered development effort in Mindanao, "genuine security threats" vanished.

She also cited the contribution of the Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team on the ceasefire between the MILF and the Philippine government to proving how nations "working together" could surmount major challenges such as terrorism.

"This range includes Sweden, European Union, the United States, Japan, Libya and other OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) countries. They have been able to keep the peace and like I said, helped uplift the lives of Christians and Muslims in Mindanao," Mrs. Arroyo said.

"This is paradigm for peace in Mindanao. With the soft and hard power, this coalition was able to meld together confidence building measures such as inter-faith understanding, cultural awareness, economic and basic infrastructure development and also mutual security arrangements," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo also cited the newly signed ASEAN convention on counter-terrorism, the first binding regional agreement on terrorism. The convention was signed during the recent ASEAN summit in Cebu.

ASG seen crushed this year

The commanding general of the elite Philippine Army Special Forces sees the complete annihilation of the Abu Sayyaf within this year.

Brig. Gen. Arturo Ortiz said over "Para sa Iyo Bayan" radio program of Vice President Noli de Castro that the deaths of Janjalani and Solaiman showed that the days of the terror group were numbered.

"We’re really committed to neutralize the whole Abu Sayyaf group up to the last man. There is a strong possibility that we can do it within the year,’’ Ortiz said, citing the high morale among the soldiers pursuing the bandits for the recent victories.

The Abu Sayyaf gained global notoriety when it kidnapped a group of European tourists from a resort in Sipadan, Malaysia and brought them to Mindanao.

In 2001, the group snatched foreign and local tourists, including US missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham and another American, Guillermo Sobero, from a Palawan resort. The bandits beheaded Sobero. Martin Burnham was killed during a rescue operation.

Khadaffy assumed the leadership of the Abu Sayyaf after his brother, founder of the group and Afghan-trained Abubakar Abdurajak Janjalani, was killed in a gunfight with police in 1998.

The US government had offered a $5-million reward for the capture or death of the younger Janjalani. The US has yet to determine who can claim the reward. — Aurea Calica, Pia Lee-Brago and wire reports

George to Glo: You’re a big shot By Aurea Calica The Philippine Star 01/28/2007

DAVOS, Switzerland (via PLDT) — US President George W. Bush told President Arroyo that she was a "big shot" because of her presence at the World Economic Forum (WEF) here, and humbly called himself "just a little shot."

Twenty-four heads of state and government and 800 business executives from 90 countries attended this year’s WEF.

When Bush learned that Mrs. Arroyo was here for the World Economic Forum, he said, ‘You are a big shot’," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.

"‘You should be here’," Bunye quoted Mrs. Arroyo as saying, to which Bush replied: "No, I’m not a big shot. I am just a little shot." Bunye said the two presidents were on a first-name basis during their cordial phone conversation.

The White House called on Friday afternoon here (10:55 p.m. Manila time) primarily to congratulate Mrs. Arroyo on her successes in the fight against the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, which has links to the al-Qaeda.

One of the main items on the agenda at the WEF was how to push forward the Doha Round of Talks.

Mrs. Arroyo informed Bush that the G33, including India, was willing for the US to come out with a proposed package on what the US, Europe and India and the rest of the G33 would give in terms of market access.

"Bush said he would ask the US representative in Davos to look into that," Bunye said.

The G33, which includes the Philippines, represents 42 countries concerned about food security and farmers’ livelihood in developing nations.

The Doha Round of WTO talks were stalled because the US, European nations and other WTO members such as Brazil, India, Japan and Australia were unable to reach agreement on key issues such as farm tariffs.

The Doha free trade talks aim to lift millions around the world out of poverty by lowering trade barriers across all sectors, with particular emphasis on developing nations.

Mrs. Arroyo, as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has called for the immediate resumption of the WTO talks and said the Philippines and ASEAN were ready for global trade.

"At a time when the Doha round is faltering, ASEAN wants to stand up and proclaim its support for keeping the doors of global trade open. And ASEAN is committed to expanding its trade area to create one of the world’s great trading blocs," Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement read before delegates to the WEF.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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