Philippine Military Takes Moro Headquarters

Philippine President Joseph Estrada declared that the military overran the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) headquarters Camp Abubakar in the southern island of Mindanao on Sunday morning.

The capture of Camp Abubakar, which took place at around 11 a.m. Sunday, will speed up government efforts to bring genuine and lasting peace and development in Mindanao, Estrada said.

He said government soldiers have seized major structures inside the camp, including the armory where the retreating MILF fighters left huge cache of arms and ammunition.

Abubakar reportedly rests on a 10,000-hectare territory in Matanog in the province of Maguindanao, housing six Muslim communities in the area as well as the residences of MILF leaders

led by Chairman Hashim Salamat. Several military and civilian facilities are also said to be inside the camp.

Estrada said government troops are now consolidating forces, setting upperimeter security around the camp, and checking for landmines left by MILF fighters who abandoned their stronghold.

Eight soldiers were killed during the offensive while 37 others were wounded, according to the president.

He said Gen. Angelo Reyes, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, reported to him that MILF resistance was contrary to its earlier pronouncement that its fighters will defend Camp Abubakar at all cost.

With Camp Abubakar now in government hands, the president said his administration can move with more speed in transforming Mindanao into a progressive economic center.

"With this development, we can look forward to faster government efforts to give Mindanaons the quality of life they long deserve," he said.

The military began launching attacks on Camp Abubakar after the MILF failed to meet a June 30 deadline set by President Estrada to sign an interim peace deal with the government and rejected

government demands to abandon its bid for independence and stop terrorist acts.

Some 6,000 soldiers reportedly had been deployed to take the camp, supported by dozens of armored vehicles, Howitzers, bomber aircraft and attack helicopters.

Philippine Air Force light bombers and helicopter gunships alternately conduct daily airstrikes on rebel positions in the past week to soften the defenses around the camp.

President Estrada ordered the military on Friday to arrest top MILF leaders once Camp Abubakar is overrun, saying that "They should be captured because they are challenging the sovereignty of

this country."

The 15,000-strong MILF, which has been fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao, threatened earlier to retaliate if the government forces continue to attack Camp Abubakar.

Conflicts between government troops and MILF fighters have reportedly displaced at least 500,000 civilians since late April when the military launched attacks on rebel encampments along the Narciso Ramos Highway in Maguindanao.

People's Daily Online ---