JOLO (Philippines): The armed forces yesterday demanded that Muslim rebels in the southern island of Jolo surrender or suffer heavy casualties as fighting entered its fourth day.
More than 100 soldiers and supporters of jailed former Muslim separatist leader Nur Misuari have either been killed or wounded in some of the most intense fighting seen in the region for years.
“It's either surrender or nothing. They should lay down their arms and surrender to me those who killed my soldiers there,” said Lt-Gen Alberto Braganza, chief of the military's southern command.
“Our operations will continue and we are trying to contain the fighting in some areas,” he said, adding that reinforcements sent to the area were enough to crush the rebels.
Clashes erupted on Jolo island on Monday following attacks by Misuari's men against troops in several towns.
The military said at least 20 soldiers have been killed and 38 wounded on its side.
The rebels suffered over 60 dead and wounded.
At least 500 families from five towns have been evacuated to safer areas in Jolo, a known stronghold of armed Muslim militants and the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels.
Officials said the hostilities were touched off after Misuari's men joined forces with the Abu Sayyaf, who were trying to repel a massive offensive by troops launched last week.
The Abu Sayyaf is a rag-tag group of militants considered a terrorist organisation by the US and Philippine governments.
In 2000, the group kidnapped dozens of mostly European hostages from a Malaysian resort and took them to Jolo.
The victims were later ransomed off one by one under the glare of the international media spotlight.
In 2001, they again seized several people, including three Americans, two of whom later died.
Misuari is the founder of the former separatist group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which signed a peace pact with Manila in 1996.
He is in jail while on trial for a failed fresh rebellion that his men carried out in 2001 that left more than 100 people dead in Jolo.
Officials said his followers are demanding that his detention be transferred to Jolo, many of whose local officials were at one time or another former MNLF leaders. – AFP
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