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Philippines Continues Military Offensive Against Rebels - 2003-06-12


The Philippine government has vowed to continue its military offensive against Muslim separatists despite fresh conciliatory gestures from the rebels. There appears to be no plan now to restart peace talks to end three decades of conflict in the southern Philippines.

The Philippine separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF, announced late Wednesday it is extending a 10-day unilateral ceasefire for another 10 days. The MILF called its first unilateral truce after the government in Manila threatened to label the group a terrorist organization due to a new surge in violent attacks and bombings.

President Gloria Arroyo Thursday dismissed the rebels' latest offer and insisted on a permanent truce rather than what she describes as "ceasefire by installment" offered by the MILF.

Ms. Arroyo warned that military action against what she called "terrorists" within the MILF would continue. "Police and the military must be prepared. We shall sustain punitive action."

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu says the truce will prevail despite the government's failure to match the offer. "What is important here is that we extended our SOMA [suspension of military operations], in order to pave the way for the normal course of peace negotiations."

Peace talks between the government and the rebels broke off in February after the Philippine military launched an offensive against the group for allegedly hiding kidnappers from the terrorist group called the Pentagon Gang.

In addition, the military says the MILF has been behind a series of bombings in the southern Philippines early this year and has links to the regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah - charges the rebels deny.

Neighboring Malaysia and local peace advocates have failed to bring the two sides back to the table. President Arroyo says she needs to be convinced of the rebels' sincerity in wanting peace in the southern Philippines, before talks could resume.

The MILF and associated Islamic groups have been fighting for a separate homeland in the south of the mostly-Roman Catholic Philippines. Tens of thousand of people have been killed in the conflict.