US to MILF: Cut terror ties or lose aid

MANILA -- Former defense chief Angelo Reyes took his oath Wednesday as "ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism," as a US envoy warned Muslim separatists they would lose millions of dollars in aid unless they cut links with the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror network.

Also on Wednesday, President Arroyo announced her appointment of former military intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus as chief of the Civil Relations Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

US ambassador to the Philippines, Francis Ricciardone, said the US Congress had earmarked 30 million dollars for areas controlled by the 12,500-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) once a peace agreement was signed with Manila.

But the MILF would lose access to the funds unless they cut all links to the JI, a regional Islamic militant group blamed for last October's bombing in Bali that killed more than 200 people and other deadly attacks.

The military has accused the MILF of giving sanctuary to JI terrorist cells in the south and sheltering self-confessed JI bomber Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi who escaped from a Manila jail in July.

The MILF, which has been waging a rebellion in the southern Philippines for 25 years, has denied links to JI. Its peace talks with the government stalled in May but efforts are under way for them to resume.

The ambassador refused to elaborate on the alleged ties between the JI and the MILF.

"Because of the sensitivity of the information, I would have to leave it as a statement of concern. And I would not be stating that concern unless we had excellent grounds for it," the envoy said.

"We are very, very concerned about it," Ricciardone told a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

No threat

Despite this, there appeared to be no specific JI threat against President George W. Bush, who is due here on October 18 to meet President Arroyo, a staunch backer of the US-led campaign against terrorism, the ambassador said.

"The JI does not bring peace and development, but only death and destruction to all who deal with it," he said.

"And at a time when the MILF is looking for United Nations interest in its cause, it makes no sense if the MILF is having anything to do with a foreign terrorist organization outlawed by the United Nations," he said.

Ricciardone said MILF chief Salamat Hashim had written to Bush before he died in July promising to peacefully resolve the MILF's rebellion.

When this happened, the United States would support the development of MILF areas, he said.

But, "The US will not provide economic development assistance in areas controlled by the MILF if that organization maintains its ties to outlaws, terrorists, in violation of the written testimony of chairman Salamat in his last days."

Ricciardone also urged the Philippines to fast-track its hunt for al-Ghozi and said the United States would cooperate with the Manila on any information gleaned from alleged JI leader Hambali, in US custody after being arrested in Thailand in August.

Reyes said that in his new post, he would be charged with coordinating with other countries in the fight against domestic and international terrorism.

At the same time, he told a press briefing shortly after his oath taking that he is considering running for a national post in the 2004 elections.

Israel replacement

Corpus, meanwhile, will be taking over the post vacated by Edgardo Israel, who retired Wednesday from military service.

He resigned as chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) two days after rebel soldiers launched a failed mutiny in Makati City last July 27.

The rebellion was quelled in less than 24 hours.

He quit his post to calm what he described as "continuing restiveness within the military."

The mutineers urged Arroyo to sack Corpus, then defense head Reyes and PNP Chief Hermogenes Ebdane.

Corpus, who became a communist rebel after leaving the military service in the '70s, returned to the military, where he was later appointed intelligence chief.

02/10/2003

Bron : Sun Star

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