JOLO (AP), SEPTEMBER 11, 2006 (STAR) As Americans reflected on the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, villagers in the Philippines sought an apology for killings by the U.S. cavalry a century ago, and asked visiting American troops to leave their island.

A forum on Islam and democracy, partly organized by the U.S. State Department over the weekend on southern Jolo island, stirred memories of those violent events, which happened in two starkly different worlds but which continue to affect a raging conflict.

An American military commander urged villagers to move beyond the past.

"I think it's just important that we not be held hostage to history," U.S. Army Col. James Linder, the top American commander in the Philippines, told villagers in Jolo's provincial capital in Patikul.

Linder outlined U.S. humanitarian projects across the impoverished island, a bastion of al-Qaida-linked militants.

"I won't stay here and make an excuse for something that happened 100 years ago," he said.

"We truly do mean to do good things to the people in this island," he said.

But despite the U.S.'s attempts to move on, the events of 1906, when hundreds of Filipino villagers were killed by U.S. soldiers, are complicating its ability to prevent alleged terrorists from using the Philippines as a beachhead for campaigns in the region.

U.S. troops, barred by Philippine law from engaging in combat, have been building roads and schools, digging wells and providing medical services in an effort to win hearts and minds on predominantly Muslim Jolo, where Abu Sayyaf militants have endured years of U.S.-backed offensives.

American forces also have been training and arming Filipino soldiers battling the Abu Sayyaf since 2002 in one of the key fronts in the post-Sept. 11, U.S.-led war on terror.

The Philippine military launched a new offensive last month against the guerrillas, who are believed to have given refuge to Indonesian militants wanted for some of Southeast Asia's worst terrorist attacks.

America's charm offensive might have begun to win over Jolo villagers, but Sunday's forum _ attended by two American Muslim leaders, U.S. military officers and Jolo officials _ underscored the difficulty of the task.

A U.S. Muslim speaker, Tiye Mulazim, lamented the deaths of innocent people in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Another American Muslim leader, Mohamad Bashar Arafat, discussed the discrimination and other travails that agonized Muslims worldwide following the attacks.

Jolo community leaders, however, raised the question of the 1906 killings of hundreds of villagers in the island's mountainous Bud Daho region by American forces trying to quell resistance to U.S. occupation.

The killings were denounced by many Americans at the time, including Mark Twain.

A Roman Catholic priest, Romeo Villanueva, asked at the forum for Washington to apologize to appease the villagers. A Filipino Muslim leader, Ulka Ulama, went further, asking the American troops to leave.

"I don't believe that we have terrorists here as defined by some people," Ulama said.

A U.S. Embassy officer, Stephen Ashby, said he would convey the apology demand to American officials.

"It saddens me that that happened and ... the American people at the time spoke out on that issue," he said, adding that one of the great things about the U.S. is that "when our government or our military makes a mistake, we hold them accountable because they serve us."

Linder explained that the American troops who are here now had no involvement in Jolo's war and urged villagers to cast aside biases in judging his men.

He outlined the help they have given: Providing fresh water from newly dug wells; poor children attending new classrooms with Internet facilities; a girl whose congenital cleft palate was fixed; a woman who regained her eyesight after being cured of cataracts.

"We're trying to make a difference," Linder said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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