AFP. 1 February 2002. US troops confined to Philippine base after plane
shot at.

MANILA -- Hundreds of US troops were confined to their base in the
northern Philippines Friday after one of their planes was hit by
small-arms fire, allegedly by communist rebels opposed to US anti-terror
actions here.

The MC-130 special forces plane was hit by two bullets on Thursday while
on a low-flight training mission over a mountainous area on the main
island of Luzon, the two governments said.

None of the crew were wounded and the plane returned safely to Clark Air
Base, the staging ground of one of two simultaneous joint military
exercises in the country.

Philippine officials acknowledge that communist New People's Army (NPA)
guerrillas operate in the area as well as in the Pinatubo volcano near
Clark, where an American mountain climber was killed in a separate gun
attack on Wednesday.

"We are investigating the incident," Filipino Air Force spokesman Major
Art Orticio told AFP referring to the attack on the plane. At this point
"we can't say who were responsible for this."

A Filipino military source said on condition of anonymity earlier that
the ground fire came from Abra.

But a Filipino government commission later said the M-14 bullets were
fired from the adjacent province of Kalinga.

The 400-odd US troops have been "ordered to remain inside the base as a
result of the shooting incidents," said Jaime Yambao, executive director
of the Filipino government commission that oversees the maneuvers.

The shooting came a day after an NPA spokesman warned that American
troops faced armed attack if they strayed into rebel areas.

It cast a cloud over larger joint military operations in the south where
about 600 American soldiers are training local troops to hunt down the
Abu Sayyaf kidnapping group that allegedly has links to the al-Qaeda
network of terror suspect Osama bin Laden.

Meanwhile, two Filipino lawyers asked the Supreme Court on Friday to
stop the US exercises arguing they were unconstitutional. The 15-member
court is on recess and resume work next week.

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Barry Stoller

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