Fri, Oct 26, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Philippine soldiers linked to coup to be discharged

NO COURT MARTIAL The mutinous troops allegedly planned to march from their Manila camps to withdraw their support from President Gloria Arroyo during a rally

AP , MANILA

The Philippine army chief has ordered the dishonorable dismissal of 26 soldiers accused of abandoning their provincial camp to join a failed attempt to overthrow the president last year, officials said yesterday.

The 26 members of the army's elite Scout Ranger Regiment have been detained by the military since they were linked to last year's February coup plot that was quashed by loyal generals and prompted President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to declare a weeklong state of emergency.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres said there was strong evidence of the soldiers' involvement in the failed uprising, but army chief Lieutenant General Alexander Yano decided to dismiss them without a court martial, partly due to their long detention.

A lawyer representing the group of soldiers, Vicente Verdadero, said the 26 were actually pro-Arroyo forces who were ordered to leave their camp in the Bicol region, southeast of Manila, to support the president in the capital.

On their way to the capital, the soldiers were intercepted by loyal army troops and detained on suspicion they planned to take part in the coup. The soldiers were later locked up in a camp near Manila and investigated.

The military suspected the 26 soldiers were among forces sympathetic to alleged military coup plotters, who are currently detained while facing a court martial.

Under the alleged plot, mutinous troops were supposed to march from their Manila camps, then withdraw their support from Arroyo during a rally at a democracy shrine.

Arroyo has survived at least three failed power grabs since being catapulted to power after President Joseph Estrada was ousted in a nonviolent "people power" revolt, involving mass public demonstrations, in 2001.

Coup rumors have since persisted, often related to a series of corruption scandals hounding Arroyo's government.

Meanwhile, the government and separatist rebels said yesterday they have overcome an impasse in peace negotiations over the size of a future Muslim homeland and are ready to resume formal talks before the end of the year.

The breakthrough in the long-running negotiations to settle a decades-long rebellion in the south came during the latest round of informal talks in neighboring Malaysia, which ended on Wednesday, the two sides said in a joint statement.

"The peace process is firmly back on track towards the holding of the formal talks before the end of the year," said the statement, signed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiator Mohagher Iqbal and his government counterpart, Rodolfo Garcia.

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