Pact marks Arroyo visit

Mrs Arroyo was met by Governor-General Michael Jeffery and Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile as she arrived in Canberra this afternoon for a 24-hour visit.

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She will attend a state dinner in her honour at Government House tonight before meeting Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd tomorrow.

The highlight of her visit will be the signing of a security agreement which will see Australia supply the Philippines with gunboats and military training in an effort to win the war against terrorists.

The pact would also provide for Australia to take part in large-scale joint military exercises with the Philippines, where al-Qaeda-linked militants and other insurgents have a foothold in the country’s south.

Filipino defence officials said Australia has promised to donate 28 high-speed gunboats worth about $4 million to the Philippines military.

Philippines’ defence under-secretary Antonio Santos said the gunboats, which can each carry six soldiers and three crewmen and navigate with a global positioning system, were to be delivered in batches starting this year and would likely be used nationwide.

Defence assistant secretary Joji Aragon said Australia had also pledged to continue providing various types of training, including a planned leadership workshop for the Philippines military’s 44 two-star generals.

Mr Howard said Australia and the Philippines had a common interest in peace and security in the region.

“We cooperate closely on counter-terrorism issues and share strategic interests in regional peace and security,” he said.

Mr Howard also flagged the signing of an agreement to promote commercial links between the two countries during the visit.

Mrs Arroyo will visit Melbourne tomorrow afternoon before flying out of Australia.

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