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Ex-Muslim Rebels Attack Philippine Base - 2001-11-19

Former Muslim rebels attacked a military base in the southern Philippines, one week before an election in the Muslim autonomous region. At least 50 people have been killed in the latest violence in the decades-long separatist fighting in the region.

Philippine officials say fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Monday fired mortars at an army garrison on Jolo island, 1,000 kilometers south of Manila.

A spokesman for the Philippine military's southern command, Mike Servando, told VOA the attack was a case of "harassment" by a faction of the MNLF organization ahead of next week's vote in the Muslim autonomous region. The faction's leader, Nur Misuari, is governor of the region and next week's election will pick his successor.

Lieutenant-Colonel Servando says Governor Misuari wants to disrupt the election next Monday. "As of the moment, the military is at the highest state of alert following reports that Misuari's group is going to conduct some terroristic activities and other military actions in connection with the conduct of this election. So apparently they want to disrupt the holding of this ARMM election and the only way he can achieve it is to create some disturbances in this period," Servando said.

Under a peace agreement signed five years ago with the Philippine government, the MNLF agreed to lay down its arms in exchange for self-rule under the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, or ARMM.

Governor Misuari opposes the election and claims the Philippine government has violated the peace accord. Mr. Misuari lost his chance to run for re-election earlier this year when the MNLF governing council ousted him as its chairman, a move said to be supported by the government in Manila. He had been criticized for failing to address the grinding poverty in the region. The governor said the Philippine government did not provide the resources needed to help his people.

For more than two decades, the Philippine government has been trying to end Muslim separatist fighting in the south, either through negotiations or military offensives.