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U.S. offers counterterrorism training to Philippines
MANILA, Philippines -- While saying the United States opposes using force to free hostages held by Muslim extremists in the southern Philippines, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen on Friday offered counterterrorist training to the Philippine military.
"I think the longer-term solution would be to have appropriate training in counterterrorism types of activities, which we are prepared to move forward with," Cohen told reporters before arriving in Manila for meetings with Philippine officials.
"I would be willing to work with them in that regard," he said, adding that military ties between the nations have warmed after a nearly 10-year strain in relations.
Philippine President Joseph Estrada has been trying to mend relations with the United States that were strained in the early 1990s when the Philippines demanded that U.S. officials close military bases in the country.
Military action sought
Cohen's visit to Manila began as Philippine negotiators hoped for the release of two French journalists held captive by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas for weeks. They were abducted while reporting on an earlier hostage drama.
In April, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 mostly international tourists from Sipadan, a Malaysian diving resort, and took them to the southern Philippines. Many of those hostages later were released, after Libya interceded and reportedly paid more than $10 million.
The rebels have several other hostages. A faction of the Abu Sayyaf also is holding a U.S. citizen -- 24- year-old Jeffrey Schilling. Cohen was not expected to join negotiations to free the hostages.
Some Philippine officials have called for quick military action against the guerrillas, who have threatened several times to behead Schilling. The American was abducted August 23.
Special units needed
Cohen, however, called on Philippine officials to give negotiations a chance to work rather than launching military action against the captors.
"We don't support paying ransom. We support the continuation of negotiations as opposed to taking military action," he said.
Cohen was to meet with Estrada and Philippine Defense Minister Orlando Mercado as part of a six-nation tour. After leaving the Philippines, Cohen was scheduled to visit Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and Japan.
Cohen said he would offer specialized training -- the U.S. has elite army and other units trained in hostage rescue and counterterrorism -- to the Philippines during his meetings.
"They have not specifically requested that (anti- terrorist training) at this point. But we think in the long term that the Philippine military needs to form the kind of special units that would be able to conduct military operations under the right circumstances," Cohen said.
CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief Maria Ressa and Reuters contributed to this report.
Muslim rebels threaten attacks on southern Philippine towns
Philippines - Government and Politics
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