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Australia and Philippines sign defence pact

The Philippines and Australia sign a defence pact which will see elite Australian soldiers train Philippines troops.

world Updated: May 31, 2007 14:35 IST
Rob Taylor

The Philippines and Australia on Thursday signed a defence pact which will see elite Australian commandos and soldiers train Philippines troops to step up the fight against insurgents in the troubled south.

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard signed an agreement which will also see Canberra supply 28 high-speed gunboats to help security forces fight Islamic militants and communist rebels.

"Our allies help us root out and destroy these vicious killers who ply their dislocated and evil ideology on the innocent," Arroyo told reporters in the Australian capital.

The pact will clear the way for Australian troops, including elite Special Air Services soldiers, to train and exercise with Philippines forces, but would not lead to Australian bases in the country, the Philippines government said.

"Only training, education and development," Philippines Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane told Reuters.

The Philippines' constitution bars foreign troops on its soil unless their presence is covered by a treaty.

Ebdane said Australian security forces could also help with forensic work and disaster relief, and cooperate in the hunt for militants based in the Philippines but linked to the Jemaah Islamiah extremist group.

Arroyo said the pact would help "modernise and professionalise" the Philippines armed forces, like a similar agreement between her country and close ally the United States, which already donates millions of dollars in military aid.

Howard, whose country has never suffered a terrorist attack on home soil, said there was no room for complacency in the war against extremists.

"The greater cooperation -- particularly training exercises involving counter-terrorism that will come out of the status of forces agreement -- is to be widely welcomed," he said.

The Australian-donated patrol boats will be used by Philippines army commandos to patrol shallow marshlands in the south, where suspected Muslim militants are hiding.

The boats, worth $4 million, would be delivered late in 2007 and could also be used in shallow rivers in other parts of the country, where communist rebels have a strong presence.

Australia will also fund Filipino soldiers attending advanced training and education at Australian war colleges.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said aid would also be increased by almost A$32 million ($26 million) to the Philippines to help tackle poverty and boost infrastructure, with overall aid to reach A$100 million over the next year.

Arroyo was visiting Australia to try and boost trade and investment ties currently worth A$1.7 billion.

Australia has been trying to build security ties with Southeast Asian nations to crackdown on Jemaah Islamiah, blamed for bombings in Indonesia which have killed 92 Australians.