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50 killed in Philippine rebel attack

high alert
Troops are on alert after rebels stormed an army base in the southern Philippines  

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (CNN) -- More than 50 people were killed when hundreds of members of the Muslim secessionist group Moro National Liberation Front stormed a military camp in the southern Philippine island of Jolo.

The apparently coordinated attacks 960 km (600 miles) south of the capital of Manila were launched before dawn but by evening the government said it had the situation under control.

Most of the MNLF casualties came from air strikes carried out by air force bombers and helicopter gunships, the military said.

A spokesman confirmed that the attack was carried out by a group headed by Nur Misuari to spoil elections in the area that Misuari stands to lose.

Southern Command spokesman Col. Danilo Servando told CNN that 48 rebels were killed while 13 were wounded. Four solders were killed and 27 were injured in the attack.

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Servando also confirmed that there was a threat to attack the military's southern headquarters in the southern city of Zamboanga.

About 100 armed Misuari followers were reported to be massing on the outskirts of Zamboanga.

Government offices were closed and employees were sent home while schools were also shut, local authorities said.


MNLF integrees
MNLF fighters have been integrated with the military to help combat insurgents  

The MNLF attack is the latest blow to the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, struggling to contain terrorism in the country.

Speaking from Washington, spokesperson Rigoberto Tigalo told reporters in Manila that the president had ordered the Philippine military to use its full force in fighting and hunting down suspected followers of Misuari.

Arroyo is expected to sign a joint communiqué with U.S. President George W. Bush on terrorism and security relations.

The agreement forms part of the U.S. and the Philippines resolve to combat terrorism, particularly the Abu Sayyaf group noted for hostage-taking.

Troops are at full stretch fighting the Muslim bandit group, which the U.S. believes has links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The group is holding an American missionary couple hostage on the nearby island of Basilan.

Tactical alliance

Abu Sayyaf
The government has dismissed the Abu Sayyaf as nothing more than a bandit group which makes a living on kidnap-for-ransom activities  

Servando meanwhile confirmed that Misuari ordered the attack.

He also confirmed what is believed to be a tactical alliance between Misuari's gunmen and elements of the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island.

The MNLF is a former secessionist group that for decades fought for an independent Islamic state in the Southern Philippines.

Talks between the government and the MNLF began in 1976 under the influential Organization of Islamic Conference.

It led to a 1996 peace pact between the government and the MNLF, providing Muslim autonomy instead of full independence, thus creating the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao where Misuari was named as governor.

However, after serving five-years in the government, Misuari was accused of mismanaging millions in funds allotted for his area when the region did not prosper under his leadership.

Arroyo has recently called for a re-election in the area but Misuari threatened to return to the mountains and revive his organization should the government call achieve its aim.

Apart from the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is also fighting for an independent Islamic state.

The MILF is an offshoot of the MNLF that broke away after Misuari agreed to serve the government.

The group is currently negotiating with the government, and a ceasefire between it and the military is in place.


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• Moro Islamic Liberation Front
• Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)

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