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Philippines` President Aquino to boost army to tackle rebels

International Desk |
Update: 2010-07-01 18:04:58

MANILA: New Philippine President Benigno Aquino vowed Friday to strengthen the armed forces in a bid to crush a Maoist insurgency and Islamist rebellion which have simmered for decades.

He said the 130,000-strong force was too small to properly protect a nation of more than 90 million people, many of whom are living amid the decades-old insurgencies which have killed tens of thousands of people.
"Tell us what you need and we will give it to you," Aquino said in his first speech to the defence establishment just two days into his six-year term.
"This includes increasing your ranks, since your numbers have not changed even though our population has doubled."

Aquino`s new military chief of staff Lieutenant-General Ricardo David said weapons systems would also be modernised, but did not give specific figures and conceded funding could be a problem.

"Our priority is decimation of terrorism and insurgency in the country, which continue to derail our efforts in attaining lasting peace and development," David told reporters.

"I am thinking of a two- to three-year self-imposed deadline in the armed forces to end the insurgency."

The leftist rebellion, still being waged by some 5,000 New People`s Army guerrillas, has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1969 and has diverted military resources to restive regions across the sprawling archipelago.

Manila is also fighting a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion in the south and small numbers of Islamist militants linked to the Al-Qaeda network who are allegedly behind the country`s worst terror attacks.

Amid a looming budget crunch, David said the defence department may privatise more of its assets or lease property it owns as a stop-gap measure.

Analysts predict the Philippines will post a record budget deficit in excess of 300 billion pesos (6.5 billion dollars) this year.

Aquino nevertheless vowed to do more to improve the lives of soldiers, who have complained that they are poorly equipped for battle and often lack basic items such as combat boots.

BDST: 1435 HRS, July 2, 2010

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