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Philippine Ex-Rebels Break Pact, Renew Fight for Islamic State

November 20, 2001|Reuters

JOLO, Philippines — Hundreds of former Muslim rebels launched an armed uprising on a southern Philippine island Monday, reneging on a 1996 peace deal and raising a major challenge for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government.

Officials said 55 people--four soldiers and 51 rebel gunmen--were killed in the fighting, which occurred while Arroyo was visiting the United States to appeal for military aid in fighting other groups of Islamic separatists.

The apparently coordinated attacks on Jolo island, 600 miles south of Manila, by guerrillas of the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, were launched before dawn, but by evening the government said it had the situation under control.

A senior army officer said the worst might not be over.

"They [the MNLF] are still holding their position, and fighting may erupt again any time," the officer told reporters later Monday.

The MNLF was the biggest Muslim group fighting for an Islamic state in the south of the largely Roman Catholic country until it signed the truce with the government.

Armed followers of MNLF chief Nur Misuari launched the attacks a week before Muslims in the country's south were to hold elections that Misuari has bitterly opposed.

The fighting looks likely to lead to a major security problem for the Arroyo government as it tries to win back investor confidence shaken by tourist kidnappings and political turmoil.

The raiders, armed with mortars and recoilless rifles, struck at five military and police outposts.

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