Source: The Herald Tribune
MANILA: The Philippine government has relocated its military headquarters and stepped up its offensive against Islamic extremists in the south, sending hundreds of additional troops to the province of Sulu, where fighting in recent days left at least 25 Philippine soldiers dead.
A similar number of militants from the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and the Moro National Liberation Front were killed in two fierce gunbattles after an ambush on a military convoy on Jolo Island, in the same province, on Thursday.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Saturday ordered the relocation of the Philippine Army headquarters to Zamboanga, a city in Mindanao near Sulu. The defense secretary and several senior generals have been dispatched there to coordinate what is being described as a massive military operation against the Islamist insurgency.
Two battalions will be pulled out from the central and northern Philippines, where they have been fighting communist guerrillas, and deployed to Sulu, said Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres, an army spokesman.
"The military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf must continue, not as an act of vengeance but as a strategy to win the peace," Arroyo said. "We cannot allow terrorists to hold the south hostage to their agenda of mayhem and bloodsport."