Renegade troops end Manila mutiny, return to barracks

 

Renegade Philippine soldiers barricaded in an upscale Manila shopping centre ended a nearly 19-hour siege today and began returning to barracks, witnesses and negotiators said.

The disgruntled troops, who accused the government of corruption and colluding with rebels, began dismantling what appeared to be explosive devices they had placed around a residential and office building in the centre of the capital.

They had denied they were staging a coup and eventually dropped demands for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to quit. President Arroyo said the crisis was over and the 296 mutineers, including 70 junior officers, would face court martial proceedings.

"Civilians shown to be involved in any conspiracy will be prosecuted," she said in a brief televised speech.

"I assure the world that this event does not in any way injure our national security and political stability. The issues involved are domestic, operational or administrative. They do not involve fundamental or policy areas."

But economists warned share prices and the Philippine peso were likely to plummet when financial markets opened tomorrow. "This incident will certainly have a negative effect on our economy," said Trade Secretary Mr Manuel Roxas. "Even now, the business sector is reeling in a state of shock."

President Arroyo, who has the support of the military command, ordered a manhunt yesterday for up to 70 junior officers and deserters after days of rumours of a coup plot by a small group of soldiers disgruntled about pay and the pace of internal reforms.

"It was agreed they would end the siege and they will march back to barracks," Colonel Danilo Lim, one of the government negotiators, told reporters.

Even though the siege ended without a shot being fired, the grievances - including demands for Defence Secretary Angelo Reyes, the chief of national police and the head of military intelligence to quit - remain unresolved.

The United States expressed its full backing for President Arroyo, who has been one of Washington's most fervent supporters in the war on terror.