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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 04:59 GMT
Gunmen storm Philippines prison
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Suspected Muslim rebels have stormed a jail in the southern Philippines, freeing 47 prisoners, officials have said.

About 25 attackers, armed with guns and grenade launchers, attacked the jail in Kidapawan city, on the island of Mindanao.

They blasted a hole in the prison's wall, before fleeing with the inmates.

The authorities have launched a massive manhunt to find the escapees, many of whom are accused of serious crimes.

Some are also thought to be members of the MILF rebel group, which is supposed to have negotiated a ceasefire with the government.

"We were caught with our pants down," Emmanuel Pinot, governor of the Mindanao region, told Reuters news agency.

"I have ordered police to shoot these very dangerous people if they resist arrest. They are better dead than a menace to our communities," he said.

Rebel links?

This is the second jail break on Mindanao in recent months.

In December, armed men raided the Cotabato City prison, freeing several Muslim militants.

This time a group of armed men surrounded the prison, blew down the wall with grenade launchers and pinned down the guards while the prisoners escaped.

The escapees fled toward a forested area at the back of the jail, officials said.

Many of those who were freed face serious charges, such as murder and kidnapping.

Several had been found guilty of carrying out bombing campaigns for the Islamic separatist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Military spokesman Colonel Julieto Ando told reporters that he thought the MILF "most likely had a hand" in the jailbreak.

But rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied that his group had anything to do with the incident.

The MILF - which is campaigning for self-rule in the southern region around Mindanao - is currently supposed to be observing a ceasefire with the government.

Negotiations between the two sides have, however, been bogged down by MILF demands for economic control of certain areas.

Discussions are further complicated by reports of renegade MILF members helping other militant groups in the southern Philippines, such as the notoriously brutal Abu Sayyaf group on the island of Jolo.




SEE ALSO
Guide to the Philippines conflict
10 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Is this the end for Abu Sayyaf?
23 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Double bomb attack in Philippines
10 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Manila alert after prison deaths
16 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Bloody end to Manila jail break
15 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: The Philippines
20 Dec 06 |  Country profiles

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