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Stories

Philippine communist rebels kill soldier, take guns (23 August 2006)

Philippine communists call for resumption of talks (3 July 2006)

Hundreds flee fighting in southern Philippines (30 June 2006)

Facing impeachment, Arroyo appears strong (26 June 2006)

Manila sticks with Sept target for peace deal (7 June 2006)


Philippine communist rebels kill soldier, take guns (23 August 2006)

Philippine communist rebels killed one soldier and seized 29 assault rifles with ammunition in a raid on an army outpost on the troubled southern island of Mindanao, the guerrillas and the military said on Wednesday.

A member of a paramilitary force also was wounded when about 50 New People's Army (NPA) rebels stormed the detachment near Valencia City on Tuesday night, an army spokesman said, describing the attack as a "big debacle".

"It will be investigated because many firearms were taken," Major Ernesto Torres told reporters in Manila.

The NPA, fighting one of the world's oldest communist insurgencies, often attacks remote military and police facilities to steal weapons and ammunition.

"Our fighters caught them by complete surprise," Cesar Renerio, an NPA spokesman in Bukidnon province, told reporters.

"Several members of a paramilitary unit inside the base did not offer any resistance. At least 29 M-16 rifles were taken from the detachment."

The Philippines, Washington's closest security partner in Southeast Asia, estimates NPA membership at around 7,000, down from a peak of more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s.

Fuelled by widespread poverty and a sense of injustice, especially in rural areas, the NPA has been waging a violent, hit-and-run insurgency since the late 1960s and is active in 69 of 79 provinces.

At least 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

Peace talks with the communists, brokered by Norway, stalled in 2004 when Manila refused to persuade the United States and some European states to remove the NPA from terror blacklists. Reuters

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Philippine communists call for resumption of talks (3 July 2006)

Philippine communists want an immediate resumption of peace talks with the government, the rebels' chief negotiator said on Monday, voicing concern about the disappearance and killing of activists.

Talks brokered by Norway to end a nearly 40-year conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people stalled in 2004 after the United States put the New People's Army (NPA) on its blacklist of terror groups.

The Philippine government, a close ally to Washington, is holding peace talks with the country's largest Muslim rebel group but accuses the communists of being part of a coup plot earlier this year, along with rogue soldiers and some politicians.

Last month, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gave her army and police generals an extra 1 billion pesos ($18.9 million) to step up the fight against the NPA by buying more weapons and building roads, schools and clinics in remote areas.

Arroyo also saw the defence establishment's timetable of six to 10 years to defeat the communist insurgency as too long, ordering the crushing of the Maoist-led rebels in just two years.

"Resume formal peace talks directed at addressing the social roots of the armed conflict," NPA chief negotiator Luis Jalandoni said in a statement.

"The all-out war proclaimed by the Arroyo regime is not the answer but in fact will lead to further economic ruin and further escalate human rights violations."

NPA rebels play a cat-and-mouse game with security forces in 69 of the 79 provinces in the Philippines, feeding on social and economic problems of corruption, poverty, injustice and neglect.

Calling the government "the butcher of democracy and political activists", Jalandoni said nearly 700 leftists had been murdered and 180 had disappeared since Arroyo came into power in 2001 during a popular uprising backed by generals and bishops.

Jalandoni, a former Roman Catholic priest who acquired Dutch citizenship, said the government must investigate, prosecute and punish human rights violators, singling out Major-General Jovito Palparan for most of the murders and disappearances.

Palparan, an army division commander who has himself been called "The Butcher" by the NPA, has denied any links to groups behind the killings and kidnappings of activists.

But he expressed delight over the recent disappearance of three students doing research outside Manila, saying they were NPA rebels.

"Their disappearance is good for us but as to who abducted them, we don't know," Palparan told reporters on Friday.

Jalandoni said the government's failure to stop rights abuses by soldiers and police officers was like a "licence to perpetrate more extra judicial killings and involuntary disappearances". Reuters

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Hundreds flee fighting in southern Philippines (30 June 2006)

Hundreds of people fled four villages on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao as Muslim rebels exchanged mortar and gunfire with paramilitary forces, police and rebel officials said on Friday.

Members of government and rebel ceasefire panels, worried about the potential impact on Malaysian-brokered peace talks, were struggling to prevent the clashes from escalating and threatening a three-year-old truce.

Security and rebel forces have blamed each other for starting the fighting on Wednesday around Shariff Aguak town, where seven people were killed last week by a bomb intended for the powerful governor of Maguindanao province, Andal Ampatuan.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim separatist group in the mainly Roman Catholic country, said shelling of its positions resumed on Friday after a brief lull.

"More than 200 families left their homes to avoid getting caught in the crossfire," said MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu.

"We're holding our line after the Malaysians requested our troops to remain where they are now and stop the advance to avoid a direct confrontation with regular soldiers."

Army officials said none of its soldiers was involved in the clashes but the military was preparing to move reinforcements to army bases in the area.

The paramilitary forces are civilians trained and armed by the military to help defend their communities, but analysts say they are often used by local politicians as private armies.

"The instruction was for the 6th Infantry Division to pacify the warring groups," said Captain Jose Pabilonia, spokesman for the military in Mindanao.

POLITICAL WILL

The MILF has been negotiating with Manila since 1997 to end a nearly 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and stunted development of the south, which is rich in oil, minerals, timber and agricultural goods.

But talks stalled in May over issues of the size and wealth of a proposed Muslim homeland.

Manila has offered to include an extra 600 villages outside the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao as part of the proposed ancestral land, but the MILF wants at least 1,000 more than the government's proposal.

Kabalu said MILF rebels had killed about 40 paramilitaries in intense fighting near the vast marshlands around Shariff Aguak and Datu Unsay towns in Mindanao's central region.

"We lost only one fighter and 10 were wounded," he said.

Superintendent Lumala Gunting, police chief of Maguindanao province, disputed the rebel spokesman's account, saying it was the paramilitaries who killed dozens of guerrillas.

"I had not seen any casualty from our side," Gunting said.

There was no independent confirmation of the casualties because members of the ceasefire panels, together with a team of Malaysian peace monitors, had difficulty getting to the area.

"Only the president can stop the fighting and save the peace negotiations," said Benny Bacani, executive director of the Institute of Autonomy and Governance in Cotabato City.

"If there's no political will displayed here, violence may escalate, threatening the ceasefire and may break the confidence of the peace talks." Reuters

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Facing impeachment, Arroyo appears strong (26 June 2006)

When President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on Monday, she presented him with what she had earlier called "the gift of life": a law she signed over the weekend that abolished the death penalty in her country.

Not all Filipinos, however, celebrated the gesture of the deeply religious leader of the largest Roman Catholic country in Asia. They called it a ploy to gain favor at the Vatican, which is opposing her move to change the Philippine Constitution, and, at the same time, as payback to the church for not supporting several attempts to oust her from office in the past year.

Exactly a year after an impeachment complaint was filed against Arroyo in the Philippine Congress, she is still hounded by several issues, her policies are routinely questioned, and her critics see hypocrisy and opportunism in her actions.

These policies and actions range from repealing the death penalty to starting an all-out offensive against leftist rebels that her opponents see as an attempt to intimidate the opposition.

In the past year, aside from the impeachment effort, she faced almost daily demonstrations and calls for "People Power" uprisings. On Monday, her opponents - a mix of politicians, leftists, intellectuals and former officials in her cabinet - filed another impeachment complaint, this time alleging that she used the military's personnel and resources to cheat in the 2004 elections and that she used money from illegal gambling and those recovered from the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to finance her election campaign.

She was also accused of condoning the killings of activists and journalists, and misusing the Constitution to suppress dissent.

Analysts, however, think the 59-year- old Arroyo, a U.S.-educated economist and daughter of a former president, will survive this new complaint - not only because her party controls Congress, but also because the political situation is much calmer now, the economy is doing fairly well, and the president has shown, according to one political analyst, "extraordinary strength."

"To her credit, she is an extraordinary person with extraordinary strength," said Clarita Carlos, an expert on politics and governance at the University of the Philippines. "She's a very, very hard worker. "

"She is a very astute politician," said Peter Wallace, an Australian financial consultant based in Manila. "Will she win this one? The odds are that, based on her experience, she will."

Since the attempt to impeach her last year failed, Arroyo has worked hard to put the economy back on track, often making unpopular decisions that were politically costly.

For example, she raised taxes on certain services and goods, like liquor and cigarettes, that most poor Filipinos consume. She did that by battling Congress, which, for years, had sat on the bills for these tax laws. She also refused to heed populist calls to restrict mining, to the delight of mining companies who consider the Philippines as largely the unexplored mining frontier of Asia.

Unemployment has gone down while the peso remains relatively stable. While Filipinos certainly feel the impact of the high cost of oil, the government has mitigated it by asking oil companies to temper their increases and to roll back pump prices if the price in the world market falls.

Analysts largely agree that the economy has performed better during her tenure than during the time of her predecessor, Joseph Estrada. "She's done well on the fiscal side," Wallace said.

There are still things that need to be addressed, however. Eight industry sectors account for 80 percent of the Philippine gross domestic product. Foreign investment is still low. The educational system needs to be drastically improved if the country hopes to capitalize on the booming business-processing industry. Wallace said Arroyo performed well considering the odds.

Even her political adversaries concede that things have changed in the past year. "She is in a stronger position now," said Neric Acosta, an opposition congressman. "There is relative quiet in the political front."

One factor for this, said Carlos, the analyst, is that Arroyo's opponents are disorganized.

"The opposition is not quite strategized," Carlos said. "All had been on the tactical level. There are many egos clashing there, too. Their only common goal is to oust her."

On Monday, Imee Marcos, the congresswoman who is a daughter of the late dictator, complained that "the opposition does not have a single strategy to pursue the impeachment complaint. It seems that everyone is saying something different."

The new impeachment attempt will not improve matters. "It distracts everybody from doing the things that need to be done," Wallace said. "The country gets hijacked by this political situation."

Arroyo's allies in Congress said the new complaint would fail because the opposition does not have the numbers to impeach the president.

"The people want jobs and opportunities, not the opposition theatrics," said Edwin Uy, a congressman. International Herald Tribune

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Manila sticks with Sept target for peace deal (7 June 2006)

The Philippine government remains hopeful a peace deal with the largest Muslim rebel group will be signed by September despite protracted talks over land, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's peace adviser said on Wednesday.

Jesus Dureza, who once sat as the chief negotiator with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said Manila was offering the Muslim rebels broader powers to govern in a wider area of the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.

"Our position is there was a timeline agreed upon by both sides. We're still sticking with that timeline," Dureza, a former congressman and journalist, told Reuters at his office.

"A peace agreement is merely putting in place a framework of a process that has to be worked on. It has no magic formula."

Since 1997, the MILF has been negotiating with Manila to end a nearly 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and stunted development of the resource-rich south.

In February, the two sides had hoped to strike a deal for a homeland for 3 million Muslims in the south by mid-September, but talks have dragged over how much territory to sign over and how to split the region's rich resources.

A member of the government's peace panel and a rebel leader were more pragmatic recently, saying it may not be possible to sign any agreement in the next three months.

The MILF wants an ancestral homeland based on the territory of Muslim sultanates in the 14th century, but the government is only willing to expand the homeland to 130 villages outside an existing autonomous area for Muslims.

The rebels also demand full control to explore and exploit resources such as oil, minerals, timber and agricultural goods -- something not allowed in the Philippine constitution.

TWO BIRDS, ONE STONE

An undeveloped gold-copper field on the island of Mindanao, estimated by Australian firm Indophil to be Southeast Asia's largest with potential yearly export earnings of $700 million, is in an area claimed by Muslims and a local tribe.

Dureza said the government was hoping a peace deal with the MILF would also address the "unfinished tasks aspired for" by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). The MILF is a breakaway group from the MNLF.

In 1996, Manila signed a peace deal with the MNLF, brokered by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) through Indonesia. But the former rebels complain the government has reneged on its commitments.

The peace picture is also clouded by corruption and the often diverging interests of powerful Muslim politicians, Christian landowners and traditional clan animosities.

The OIC sent a five-member delegation to the south last month to look for ways to remove obstacles to the full implementation of the MNLF agreement and will host a three-party meeting in July in Saudi Arabia to put the deal back on track.

Dureza said the government was signing a new partnership with rogue MNLF forces loyal to jailed Muslim leader Nur Misuari to end hostilities and enlist their support in fighting militants with ties to al Qaeda and the regional group Jemaah Islamiah.

He gave hints Misuari might be allowed by the courts to go to Saudi Arabia for talks with the government and the OIC, a move that may boost negotiations with the MILF.

"The biggest work is not in negotiations," Dureza said. "It's implementing what has been agreed upon and peace building takes a lifetime." Reuters

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� 2004 APC Process.  Last updated Wednesday, August 23, 2006