MANILA: Philippine President Gloria Arroyo ordered selective aerial and artillery attacks on Muslim separatist guerillas yesterday, declaring “we must fight back now or face greater peril in the future.”
Immediately after her statement aired on government television, the head of military forces in the south announced that his forces were using “punitive force” against members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Arroyo said she “authorised the armed forces to employ selective aerial and artillery attacks to dislodge embedded terrorist cells,” allegedly behind a series of attacks and bombings against civilians in the southern island of Mindanao.
“We've decided to use extraordinary punitive force not merely in view of the tactical necessity but to signify the determination of the government to bring terrorists to justice,” she said.
She said Filipinos had been attacked by terrorists, not only in Mindanao but even in other countries, an apparent allusion to the three Filipinos slain in the suicide bombings in Riyadh.
“We're victims in our own lands and elsewhere. We must fight back now or face greater peril in the future,” she said.
In recent days, Arroyo has suspended peace talks with the rebels, following an upsurge in bombings and raids on civilian targets that have killed almost a hundred people since March.
She has also given the MILF until June 1 to cease attacking civilians and disavow links with foreign and local terrorist groups or they will be branded as terrorists themselves, effectively crippling chances of further peace talks.
Just after Arroyo's statement, Major General Roy Kyamco, head of armed forces in the south, said his troops had launched operations against the rebels in different parts of the south.
“There will be operations, bombings and more raids on suspected terrorist lairs in areas where the MILF had attacked civilians,” Kyamco said in the southern city of Zamboanga.
He said sporadic clashes had been taking place in the central area of Mindanao but he would not give further details.
Arroyo said she was departing yesterday for a state visit to the US where she would “bolster our strategic relationship with the United States as well as with our neighbours in the fight against terrorism.” – AFP