Australian boats to flush out J.I camps in Mindanao
AUSTRALIA will supply up to 30 small river-boats to The Philippines to help track Jemaah Islamiah terrorists hiding in jungle camps on the southern island of Mindanao. Philippines Defence Secretary Avelino Cruz told the Foreign Correspondents Association in Manila that the boats would help Filipino troops "get to the terrorists who may have bunkers in these marshlands".

The concept of providing small rivercraft to help The Philippines armed forces patrol the waterways of southern Mindanao was first canvassed by former defence minister Robert Hill during a visit there last year.

Australia and The Philippines have stepped up bilateral counter-terrorism co-operation over the past two years, with Canberra spending more than $10million a year on military training and equipment. The biggest concern remains the movement of JI fighters from Indonesia to training camps in the southern Philippines run by Muslim separatists including the Abu Sayyaf group.

Mr Cruz said intelligence reports indicated that up to 30 JI militants "come back and forth" to Mindanao for terror training. Among the terrorists believed to be hiding in Mindanao are two JI militants, Dulmatin and Omar Patek, identified as key suspects in the 2002 Bali bombings.

Canberra's focus has been on improving surveillance of The Philippines borders and waterways in southern riverine and marshland areas of Mindanao. Australia also trains Philippines police and special forces. Mr Cruz said Australia would train Filipino troops for the riverine operation. He said the Government did not judge the JI threat as serious "at this point".

The Philippines and Australia were moving closer to finalising a status of forces agreement that would allow Australian troops to conduct joint military training in the country, he said.
Posted by: Oztralian 2006-03-13