Friday, February 11, 2005

Moslem Rebels Launch Fresh Attacks On Southern Philippine Island

Armed followers of a jailed Moslem rebel leader launched fresh attacks against government troops on a southern Philippine island on Thursday as the military vowed to crush the militants' rampage.
Eight soldiers, including two army officers, were wounded in the latest attack by loyal supporters of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari on Jolo island, 1,000 kilometres south of Manila. Colonel Pedrito Soledad said the guerrillas strafed an army detachment in Panamao town as the fighting, which has already killed at least 20 soldiers and more than 30 rebels, raged for the fourth straight day. Soledad identified the wounded army officers as Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Villanueva and Captain Joel Jugarap. Lieutenant General Alberto Braganza, chief of the armed forces' Southern Command, vowed no let-up in the operations against Misuari's followers until the group was neutralised. "It's surrender or nothing,'' Braganza said. "I will pursue the group responsible for the death of my soldiers. I will finish what they started.'' Hundreds of additional troops have been dispatched to Jolo to reinforce the beleaguered government troops. Forty-five other soldiers have been wounded in the hostilities, which erupted Monday when Misuari's followers simultaneously attacked army outposts and government installations on Jolo on Monday. Sulu provincial Governor Benjamin Loong has called for a ceasefire in order to start peaceful negotiations as the clashes forced some 3,000 civilians to flee their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire. Misuari's followers were allegedly angered over the killing of four civilians, including a 14-year-old boy, in a military operation against al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels in the nearby town of Maimbung early last week. Misuari led the decades-old MNLF struggle for independence in the southern region of Mindanao, until he signed a peace pact with the government in 1996 and was elected governor of an autonomous Moslem region there. In 2001, however, Misuari and his followers launched an uprising in Jolo and nearby Zamforcesboanga City after the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did not endorse his re-election bid. Misuari escaped to nearby Sabah, but was arrested in January 2002 by Malaysian authorities who deported him back to the Philippines. He is now detained in a police camp outside Manila while on trial for rebellion.