Army sets deadline as Philippines pledges 'peace talks'

New army chief set a three-year deadline to end insurgencies after new leader pledged "peace talks".

Army sets deadline as Philippines pledges 'peace talks'

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said on Friday the military would get the weapons and equipment it needed to end insurgencies after he pledged "peace talks" with a Muslim group to end conflict.

The comments come as the Philippines on Thursday said it would resume peace talks with Muslims and Maoist-led guerrillas and set up a compensation fund for thousands of Moro Muslims displaced in 2008.

Lieutenant-General Ricardo David, the new army chief, in turn set the 130,000 strong military a three-year deadline to end insurgencies by Muslim fighters and Maoist-led guerrillas.

After four decades of armed conflict between the Filipino state and the Moro Muslims, the two parties agreed to sign an agreement that would end the conflict. However, the supreme court of the Philippine declared the agreement illegal on August 4, which caused the conflict to resume.

More than 700,000 people were displaced at the height of the fighting, triggering a humanitarian crisis.

Malaysia has been facilitating negotiations with the MILF since 2001, and there is an international peace monitoring team on Mindanao.

"Tell us what you need and we will give it to you as long as they are based on principles or professionalism and utilitarianism," Aquino, the army's commander-in-chief under the constitution, told soldiers at Manila's main military base.

David took over as chief of staff on Friday, after General Delfin Bangit had to retire last month. Bangit had been appointed only in March by outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Aquino had questioned the decision.

"Doubling defence spending"

Defence spending in 2010 is set at about 57 billion pesos ($1.2 billion), with more than 70 percent going on salaries and allowances. A further 5 billion pesos was allocated to buy utility and attack helicopters, coastal patrol boats, trucks and metals for manufacturing small arms munitions.

"We have very limited resources and our campaign is focused against terrorism and internal security. So what we need are equipment that can help us carry out these tasks, such as helicopters," David said.

During the election campaign, Aquino said he would increase defence spending to 2 percent of GDP, about double the current allocation.

The military has been an influential player in Philippine politics over the past quarter century, most obviously in triggering the overthrow of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and withdrawing support from Joseph Estrada in 2001.

Aquino's mother, Cory Aquino, faced about half a dozen coup attempts when she was president in the six years after the fall of Marcos, and Arroyo faced three coup attempts.

Aquino, who took office on Wednesday, said more troops would be recruited to deploy against communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels and Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas.



Related news reports:

Philippines to compensate Muslim war victims, resume talks

Güncelleme Tarihi: 02 Temmuz 2010, 16:38