Philippines: February 14, 2003

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President Arroyo said that a ceasefire was possible with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but in the meantime, she stressed law and order must prevail in Mindanao. The Philippine army said that its was meeting little resistance as they moved into a Muslim rebel stronghold near Pikit, but the militants insisted they had changed tactics and were not on the run. Early on the 14th, about 50 MILF guerrillas and their allies attacked Bual, taking with them some 15 civilians to use as human shields.

Fighting spread in two other towns in North Cotabato, where troops recovered recovered the hostages from retreating rebels. The military claims that at least 155 rebels were killed this past week, while admitting that they lost six killed and 55 wounded. The MILF counterclaimed that only 40 rebels had been killed and six wounded.

The fighting has been raging about 300 km east of Zamboanga City, where hundreds of U.S. Special Forces are due to begin a second phase of exercises designed to raise the counter-terrorism skills of Philippine soldiers. The Philippines also ordered the expulsion of an Iraqi diplomat on the 12th, accusing him of having links to Muslim rebels blamed for an October 2002 bombing (in which a US soldier and three Filipinos died). - Adam Geibel

 

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