HUNDREDS OF former Muslim rebels took up arms in the southern Philippines yesterday, shattering a five-year-old peace deal in a battle that left 55 people dead.
Guerrillas of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) launched a pre- dawn raid on an army camp on the island of Jolo, killing four soldiers and wounding 27 others in a rain of mortar shells, the army said. Lieutenant- General Roy Cimatu, the regional army commander, said the situation was under control by noon after a counter-attack with air force bombers and helicopter gunships killed 51 rebels and wounded 13.
The shelling of the army's 104th Infantry Brigade headquarters near the airport in Jolo town raises a challenge to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is visiting the United States to appeal for military aid in fighting other groups of Islamic separatists.
Brigadier-General Adilberto Adan, a military spokesman, said: "It's a deliberate plan to show to the government that the MNLF still has teeth." The now-factionalised MNLF was once the biggest Muslim group fighting for an Islamic state in the south of the largely Catholic country until it signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996, formally ending more than 30 years of fighting that killed more than 120,000 people.
Sporadic skirmishes have broken out but none so fierce as yesterday's …