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Philippine police watch restive troops

Manila, Aug. 1 (Reuters): Hundreds of police commandos moved to a base in Manila today as Philippine security officials said they were checking reports of unauthorised troop movements after last weekend’s uprising by renegade soldiers.

Police set up roadblocks on major roads leading into the capital of 12 million people and put helicopters in the air. The presidential palace and police nationwide were on high alert.

The heightened security came as the department of justice filed coup charges against 321 elite soldiers now in custody over the siege at the Oakwood hotel in central Manila on July 27.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo insists a plot to supplant her government — which interior secretary Jose Lina said may have included plans to kill her — is being contained.

But military commanders warned that the situation remained volatile after the ninth army uprising in 17 years.

“The threat coming from unaccounted conspirators cannot be underestimated,” armed forces chief of staff Narciso Abaya told a Senate defence committee probing the uprising.

Arroyo, elevated from vice president early in 2001 during an army-backed popular revolt that ousted President Joseph Estrada, has pledged not to run in elections due by May 2004. But she has many enemies who would like to ensure she cannot reverse course.

Lina told the Senate defence committee there was a “civilian component to this coup d’etat” and that investigators were preparing charges against Gregorio Honasan, an opposition senator and former army colonel involved in coup plots in the 1980s.

State prosecutors have filed rebellion charges against Ramon Cardenas, a member of Estrada’s cabinet, accusing him of promoting the uprising after police said they had found weapons and red armbands used by the mutineers at a house he owns.

Nervousness about the political situation drove down the peso to 54.96 to the dollar before it closed at 54.87.

“We have set up checkpoints to monitor any troop movements,” said one police general who asked not to be identified.

Armed forces spokesperson Lieutenant-General Rodolfo Garcia said “only a few” troops were unaccounted for and that commanders had held meetings “to knock sense into the heads of these officers who may be contemplating joining the Oakwood people”.

But a security risk analyst with close ties to both military and police said that commanders were monitoring movements of as many as 1,500 troops — including two battalions of elite Scout Rangers, one Special Forces battalion and 250 Marines.

 

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