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Philippine Military Attacks Rebellious Governor in Jolo - 2001-11-22

The Philippine military continues to attack fighters who support the governor of the autonomous Muslim region in the south. The government also wants to arrest the governor on rebellion charges.

Military officials say their planes bombed supporters of regional governor Nur Misuari on Jolo island and that government troops captured a half-dozen rebel camps.

They say more than 160 people have been killed in the fighting that broke out Monday, when Misuari supporters launched a mortar attack on an army garrison on Jolo. The fighting has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

The Philippine government Thursday filed rebellion charges against Governor Misuari and reportedly issued a warrant for his arrest.

Interior Secretary Jose Lina says the government has evidence showing the governor was the mastermind behind the attacks. Mr. Lina says the attacks were aimed at disrupting the election next Monday of a new governor for the autonomous region.

However, a spokeswoman for President Gloria Arroyo, Isabel Deleon, told VOA the election will go ahead as planned and additional forces have been sent to Jolo. "Contingency plans are in place and the military and police are going to make sure that the elections will go on as smoothly and as peacefully as possible," she said.

Philippine officials say they put off an earlier decision to suspend the governor until after a criminal case could be established.

Armed forces chief Diomedio Villaneuva told the Philippine senate he has intelligence reports indicating Governor Misuari has fled Jolo for Malaysia.

However, he says he cannot confirm the reports. An aide to Governor Misuari refused to comment on his whereabouts, saying only that the governor is in a safe place not far away.

Mr. Misuari led the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF, which for more than two decades fought for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines. The rebel group signed a peace agreement with the government in Manila five years ago. Members agreed to lay down their arms in exchange for regional autonomy.

Under the agreement, Mr. Misuari was made governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

The MNLF removed Mr. Misuari as its chairman earlier this year. He declined to run in the upcoming election and says it violates the peace agreement.