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The BBC's Jonathan Head
"Previous attempts to crush the Abu Sayyaf through large-scale military force have not succeeded"
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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 15:57 GMT 16:57 UK
Arroyo declares war on Abu Sayyaf
President Arroyo (left) at a military parade
Arroyo is focussing resources against the Abu Sayyaf
Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has declared all-out war on the Muslim Abu Sayyaf rebel group after it threatened to decapitate a hostage captured last year.

The group have threatened to kill the hostage, Jeffrey Schilling, a US citizen, later this week.

We shall... pursue them and annihilate them, we will never, ever negotiate with them

President Gloria Arroyo
Mrs Arroyo's decision to intensify operations against Abu Sayyaf comes as she prepares for peace talks with communist rebels of the New People's Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a larger Muslim rebel group.

The MILF has already agreed a ceasefire with the government, which comes into effect on Tuesday.

Last year, Mrs Arroyo's predecessor Joseph Estrada ordered a full-scale military operation against the MILF and Abu Sayyaf but with limited success.

'Gang of criminals'

The Abu Sayyaf, which is believed to have about 1,200 armed members, says it is fighting for a Muslim homeland.

It operates mainly on the island of Jolo, about 930km (580 miles) south of Manila.

Abu Sayyaf rebels
Abu Sayyaf rebels after hostage negotiations with the army last year
President Arroyo described the group as "a money-crazed gang of criminals" without any ideology.

Despite making peace overtures to other insurgents, Mrs Arroyo has recently made it clear she will not negotiate with members of Abu Sayyaf.

They responded last week by threatening to present the head of Mr Schilling as a birthday gift to the president.

The rebels have held Mr Schiling since August last year.

No empty threat

Correspondents say this may not be an empty threat: last year, the group killed and beheaded two Filipino hostages.

But the BBC's south-east Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says this is unlikely to sway the new government, which can now concentrate all its resources on the Abu Sayyaf group.

Our correspondent says the outlook for peace in the southern Philippines, other than Jolo, looks more promising.

MILF ceasefire

The MILF has ordered its fighters to lay down their weapons once the ceasefire comes into effect.

Although the group will not get back bases it lost last year, the rebels say they will still continue to talk to the government over how best to resolve the 30-year conflict.

An end to hostilities in this part of the Philippines should now allow 300,000 displaced people to go back to their homes.

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See also:

20 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo orders ceasefire with rebels
20 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Challenges confronting Arroyo
21 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Arroyo moves to bolster economy
20 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Gloria Arroyo: Contrast in styles
20 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Southern Philippines' uneasy history
26 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
The Jolo campaign: Mission impossible?
30 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Abu Sayyaf?
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