Sunday, August 12, 2007

Philippine Army Vows To Wipe Out Militants After Fatal Clashes

After suffering some of its heaviest casualties in decades, the Philippines' armed forces have vowed to wipe out militants in the south of the country. Over 50 people have been killed in the Philippines in fighting between troops and Islamic militants on the southern island of Jolo. The military was deploying two extra battalions with 1000 troops to back up the 4,000 troops already there. Of those killed at least 26 were soldiers , Major Eugene Batara, spokesman for the military's Western Mindanao Command said. The army has blamed the al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf terrorist group which has its stronghold in the Philippines. However Hatimil Hassan, a representative of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), said his group was also involved in the clashes. The MNLF, one of the oldest Islamic rebel groups in the Philippines signed a peace deal with the government in 1996, in which it agreed to lay down its arms in exchange for limited autonomy.However the deal has never been applied fully and this has led to frustration among some MNLF leaders. According to sources, various factions within the MNLF consider the peace deal "invalid" and believe that a return to the use of arms is "legitimate". Clashes between the groups linked to the MNLF and the military have become more frequent in the past few months. This latest attack follows an operation launched by the military against suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf in the nearby island of Basilan where 10 soldiers were decapitated on 10 July. The soldiers were part of a group of 14 killed in a clash with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Islamic rebel group in the Philippines with 12,000 militants. Manila and the MILF have been involved in peace talks since 2001. The MILF has re-positioned its forces in Basilan to allow for the Filipino troops to advance. The MILF and the Abu Sayyaf derived from the radical wings of the MNLF. In the southern Philippines, where clans and tribal links are particularly strong, the divisions between the various groups are often difficult to define.