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Philippines Military Rejects Rebel Call for Cease-fire - 2002-03-25

Military commanders in the Philippines have rejected a call for a cease-fire by Muslim rebels who are holding three hostages on a southern island. The development follows several clashes in which at least five rebels and one Philippine soldier have reportedly been killed.

The commander of the military forces in the southern Philippines, General Roy Cimatu, told reporters Monday he received a message from Abu Sayyaf guerrillas offering to release a Philippine hostage in exchange for a cease-fire. The rebels also asked for medical treatment for one of their leaders who they say is seriously wounded. A spokesman for the southern Command, Major Noel Detoyato told VOA that General Cimatu rejected the offer. "His (General Cimatu's) guidance is that there will be no cease-fire and the only option is for them to release the three hostages and we'll take care of their wounded but they have to face the court after," Mr. Detoyato said.

The rebel leader (Isnilon Japilon) was reportedly wounded in a clash with Philippine soldiers Saturday near the town of Lamitan on Basilan island, 1,000 kilometers south of Manila. It was the latest of several clashes during the past week. Philippine troops are pursuing the Abu Sayyaf, who are holding a Philippine nurse and two American missionaries hostage in the forests of Basilan.

One hundred sixty U.S. green berets are on the island providing surveillance and communications assistance to help the Philippine forces track the rebels. But they are not allowed to engage in combat except in self-defense.

The American forces are backed by 500 U.S. support troops based in nearby Mindanao. An international delegation of peace and human rights activists met with U.S. officers there and were told an escalation of the U.S. military presence is not envisioned. Philippine authorities say they are considering a proposal to send an additional 150 U.S. troops to engage in development and social projects on Basilan.

Some political groups oppose the presence of foreign combat troops on Philippine soil. But many local residents, weary of the violence, support the U.S. presence.

The peace delegation of academics and politicians Sunday tried to visit several dozen prisoners at the provincial jail in Basilan. The prisoners have reportedly filed a complaint with the Philippine congress saying their rights are being violated. Delegates said, however, they were not allowed to see the prisoners. Government officials in Manila said the delegation would be allowed to interview all the people it wanted to.