JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Mar) – U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney visited the strife-torn island of Jolo in southern Philippines and inaugurated a cooperative store previously bombed by the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.
Kenney, accompanied by senior US and Philippine military officials, also handed various office equipment and livelihood programs to the locals, said Major Eugene Batara, a spokesman for the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command.
“The visit of U.S. Ambassador Kenney is successful and there are so many people who welcomed and greeted her. They are happy about the visit. She handed various office equipment and unveiled a livelihood programs for the locals,” Batara told the Mindanao Examiner.
Major General Eugenio Cedo, Western Mindanao Command chief, also accompanied Kenney and her group, which included the Italian philanthropist Armando de Rossi, of the 3P Foundation.
"We have donated some P2.5 million for the building materials and the Philippine Marines and the Seabees helped us renovate the cooperative store building. We are happy to help the Filipino people," said De Rossi.
De Rossi and Kenney are actively involved in many humanitarian programs in Jolo island, where troops, backed by U.S. intelligence, are battling the Abu Sayyaf.
The militant group has been blamed for the bombing last year of the Sulu cooperative store that killed and wounded dozens of mostly Muslims.
Last week, troops also clashed with Abu Sayyaf militants in Jolo’s Mount Mabigtang, but there were no reports of casualties from both sides.
Washington tagged the Abu Sayyaf as a foreign terrorist organization and offered as much as five million dollars for its known leaders.
U.S. troops are deployed in Jolo and helping the Filipino soldiers defeat the Abu Sayyaf, which is coddling as many as two dozen Jemaah Islamiya militants, including Dulmatin and Umar Patek.
Both Dulmatin and Patek have been blamed in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 mostly foreign holiday-makers, including 88 Australians. (With a report from Ely Dumaboc)