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Sunday, 9 July, 2000, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Moro separatist base 'captured'
Police burn rebel base in the Philippines
The government is conducting a major offensive
By John McLean in Manila

The Philippines' president, Joseph Estrada, says the headquarters of the country's main Muslim separatist guerrilla group has been captured by government troops.

Warplanes, helicopter gunships and artillery bombarded the base on the island of Mindanao for several days, before infantry and armoured vehicles moved in.

Philippines map

The armed forces chief of staff said nine of his men had been killed in the assault and 37 men wounded.

The president had earlier warned the guerrillas that they would be crushed if they did not abandon their campaign for an independent Islamic state.

For several weeks now government forces have been on the offensive against guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Ultimatum

President Estrada had given the MILF until the beginning of this month to renounce their claim to independence for Muslims living in the south of this mostly Christian country.

President Joseph Estrada
President Estrada is taking a hard line

No such renunciation was forthcoming, so the President ordered his troops to attack Camp Abu Bakar, the guerrillas' headquarters and main base.

Reliable figures for casualties among the MILF were not immediately available and there has been no immediate response from the guerrillas to Mr Estrada's announcement.

If the government's assertion that Camp Abu Bakar has fallen is true, it would be a big setback for the MILF.

But it doesn't necessarily mean the end of the MILF's campaign for independence. They are after all guerrillas, and therefore have no need for fixed bases.

And the Muslim minority in the southern Philippines has been successfully resisting the imposition of authority from Manila for hundreds of years.

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See also:

29 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Civilians caught in Philippines conflict
31 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Philippines rejects truce with rebels
29 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Rebels deny Manila bombings
23 Feb 99 | Asia-Pacific
Philippine dream of Islamic state
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