Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The Philippine government has reiterated its view that American troops should not participate in military actions aimed at crushing an Islamist group linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is holding an American missionary couple and a Filipina nurse hostage in the southern Philippines island of Basilan.
A small team of U.S. counter-terrorism experts has been advising the Philippine Army in its campaign to rescue the hostages and wipe out the group, which claims to be fighting for an independent Islamic state and has been seizing hostages for ransom for the past several years.
A second, 15-strong group of U.S. soldiers under a lieutenant-colonel arrived in Zamboanga City, near Basilan, on Friday, where a camp is to be set up to give Philippine troops commando training.
Philippine media Sunday carried reports saying the Americans wanted to participate in operations against the ASG.
But President Gloria Arroyo's spokesman, Rigoberto Tiglao, said the U.S. advisors were helping to train and equip the Philippine troops.
It was Arroyo's opinion that the Americans should not be armed, he said, as this would cross a line and constitute deployment of foreign troops on Philippine soil. The country's constitution prohibits operations by foreign troops in the country.
During a visit to Washington last month, Arroyo secured a pledge from President Bush for financial aid to help Manila defeat Muslim militants.
Martin and Gracia Burnham from Kansas have been held since last May. Another American kidnapped with them from a beach resort, Californian tourist Guillermo Sobero, was beheaded the following month by their captors, along with at least a dozen Filipino hostages.
The ASG was established in the early 1990s with the financial support of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to terrorism researchers.