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Philippines says no Christmas truce with rebels

Written by: Staff
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MANILA, Dec 5 (Reuters) Philippine security forces have no plans for a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels or Muslim militants during the Christmas holidays, the head of the military said today.

General Hermogenes Esperon said soldiers would step up their offensives against hundreds of Abu Sayyaf rebels on the remote southwestern island of Jolo as well as against the Maoist-led New People's Army (NPA) across the archipelago.

Last year, the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared a 96-hour truce over Christmas and New Year with communist rebels although troops remained on high level of alert.

''There should be no ceasefire when it comes to terrorism,'' Esperon, who heads the country's 120,000-member military, told reporters Religious holidays would not be an excuse for soldiers to slacken on their mission, Esperon said, adding that offensives against Muslim militants had not been called off during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan from September to October.

The mainly Roman Catholic country marks one of the world's longest Yuletide seasons, starting with dawn masses from December 16 and ending at the Feast of Epiphany on January 6.

Since 1986, the government has observed a holiday ceasefire with communist and Muslim rebels. The truce with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest of four Muslim rebel groups in the south, has been holding since July 2003.

REUTERS PDM ND1448

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