Manila asks Canberra for 12 choppers


MANILA — The Philippines has asked Australia to donate a dozen UH-1H “Huey” helicopters to beef up the military’s efforts to defeat Muslim and Maoist guerrillas, officials said on Thursday.

Manila has previously said it needs more helicopters to prevent Islamic militants from neighboring states seeking sanctuary on a southern island where Muslim rebels have been fighting for nearly 40 years to gain self-determination.

“The Philippines is asking Australia to gift them with about a dozen helicopters,” Vic Jones, an official at the Australian Embassy in Manila told Reuters, adding a decision might be made later this year.

“If we decide to give them, it would be at no cost.”

An official from the Philippine defense department said the request to acquire 12 UH-1H helicopters from Australia was sent to Canberra earlier this year.

“It would help increase our flexibility in dealing with internal security problems,” the official told Reuters.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is currently visiting the Philippines. Officials said he and his Philippine counterpart, Alberto Romulo, discussed counter-terrorism, defence and security issues at a meeting on Thursday.

Smith told reporters after the meeting he was disappointed over the failure of Manila and Muslim rebels to sign a deal on territory and urged both sides to return to negotiations.

The Philippines has only 40 helicopters, mostly second-hand, donated by the United States as part of military assistance to fight communist New People’s Army rebels and Muslim militants with ties to Jemaah Islamiah.