Rebel Philippine soldiers surrender after seizing an apartment complex

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MANILA, Philippines - About 300 rebellious soldiers who had seized an apartment complex and rigged it with explosives in the hope of ousting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo surrendered last night, ending their siege less than 24 hours after it began.

Arroyo, who had authorized loyal troops to use deadly force, if necessary, to drive the mutineers from Manila's financial district, was jubilant when she announced that negotiations had ended the standoff.

"The crisis is over," she declared at 10 p.m. "This has been a triumph for democracy."

Under the agreement, the rebels were allowed to keep their weapons and were transported back to their bases, not jail. Most looked tired and grim as they filed from the building and climbed into waiting trucks, but several said the protest was worthwhile because it gave them a chance to air grievances against the government.

"We were able to express ourselves," said a 27-year-old soldier who declined to give his name. "We will always be proud of that."

The renegades accused the Arroyo administration of selling guns and ammunition to Islamic rebels and guerrilla fighters and said the weapons were used to kill Philippine soldiers. The mutineers also accused the government of masterminding recent terrorist bombings in the southern Philippines to obtain more aid money from the United States and to provide a pretext for declaring martial law so that Arroyo could remain in power.

With low ratings in the polls, Arroyo has said she does not plan to run in an election scheduled for next year.

The soldiers offered no proof of their allegations, but they called Arroyo a terrorist and demanded that she and her top military and police officials quit.

"We demand the resignation of our leaders in the present regime," the renegades said in a protest statement. "We are willing to sacrifice our lives today, to pursue a program not tainted with politicking."

In a televised speech yesterday, Arroyo rejected the soldiers' allegations and suggested that the mutineers were the ones engaging in terrorism when they set booby traps in the shopping mall.

"There is absolutely no justification for the actions you have taken," Arroyo told the soldiers in her address. "You have already stained the uniform. Do not drench it with dishonor. Your actions are already hovering at the fringes of outright terrorism."

The president declared a "state of rebellion" in the afternoon, giving the military and police the legal authority to arrest suspects without warrants.

She set a deadline of 5 p.m. for her troops to move in but extended the deadline twice as negotiations progressed.

Under the final agreement, five leaders of the mutiny will face prosecution.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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