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Saturday, July 3, 2010

US envoy says Abu Sayyaf, JI, RSM weaker today

By Pia Lee-Brago, The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The United States’ top diplomat in the country said yesterday that rebel groups Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah and Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) have become much weaker.

“That’s an accomplishment we can all celebrate,” US Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr. said during the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) change of command ceremony.

Washington had designated these groups as foreign terrorist organizations.

Thomas lauded the joint task force for protecting Mindanao from threats and making sacrifices every day to ensure that the US partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) remains strong in the face of terrorist threats.

“Your mission continues to have the interest and support at the highest levels of our government. Never doubt that the work you do contributes greatly to the security of our homeland and the common interests of our allies throughout the region,” he added

The ambassador noted not only the impressive record of the task force in relentlessly pursuing transnational terrorists but also its role in saving the lives of 91 critically injured soldiers and Marines through medical evacuations and the disposition of over 64,000 pounds of explosive materials.

The task force likewise implemented over 150 construction programs worth P900 million and treated thousands of medical and dental patients who may not have received care in the past. Moreover, it worked with the AFP in building partnerships with local communities through civil-military operations even in isolated areas once hostile to government forces.

“The partnerships make possible livelihood projects for rogue fighters willing to turn in their guns,” he said. These partnerships, he added, also make it possible for USAID to build infrastructure, train children, open businesses and create new futures.

Clearly, he said the task force has evolved to become an enabling force for peace, improvement, and progress in Mindanao.

Thomas said on Thursday that the Philippines is a partner in the campaign against terror and not a breeding ground for terrorists. He said he sees a continuing partnership against terrorism with the Aquino administration.

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