Philippine President Bans Private Armies

PRESIDENT Corazon Aquino yesterday ordered police to seize all unlicensed guns in the Philippines and disband the private armies of political warlords to ensure peaceful elections in May.

Police said there were 143 private armies in the Philippines and that 507 of the country's 1,500 towns were potential election "hot spots."

Intense feuds among political dynasties and communist rebel plans to back candidates could spark violence, a confidential police intelligence report warned.

"You [should] go after people who have illegal firearms, you should also go after ... the political warlords," Mrs. Aquino said at a meeting with civilian and police officials a day after a nationwide gun ban took effect.

The Philippines is to elect a new president, 24 senators, 200 congressmen, 73 governors and more than 17,000 other local officials in May 11 polls.

Philippine elections have traditionally been violent, with scores of people killed in shootouts between rival factions.

"As in the past...intense partisan political rivalries could translate to violent actions," the intelligence report said.

It identified eight political dynasties or clans, involved in the fight for congressional and provincial seats, as possible sources of election violence.

Nearly 7,000 men, many of them equipped with high-powered weapons, comprise the 143 private armed groups that have been counted so far, it said.

"Previous electoral exercises [show] that some unscrupulous politicians usually reactivate their own private armed groups to manipulate the outcome of the elections," it said.

It said militia groups formed by the police to fight communist insurgents could also be used during the election "to serve as private armies of certain politicians."

The communist New People's Army (NPA), which is fighting for a Marxist state, planned to field its own candidates and back others in the elections, the report said.

The NPA has ordered its guerrillas to use force to ensure that its candidates win, and to demand fees from politicians in exchange for being allowed to campaign in rebel zones, it said.

The possibility of a plot by right-wing renegade soldiers involved in six coup attempts against Aquino "to scuttle the electoral proceedings, should not be discounted," it said. It did not elaborate.

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