Manila, MILF declare truce


MANILA: The Philippine government announced a cease-fire deal with a Muslim rebel group yesterday, agreeing to drop arrest warrants against rebel leaders for alleged terrorism to pave the way for peace talks as early as next week. 

The agreement was reached with the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has been fighting for an independent Muslim territory in Mindanao and other islands of the southern Philippines for about three decades and has been blamed for deadly bombings and other terrorist activities. 

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu welcomed the truce and said “peace can be had even in a few days if both sides are sincere.'' 

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement, “Today the peace panels of our government and the MILF have agreed on a mutual cessation of hostilities ... I call on the panels to immediately enter in formal talks toward a final peace agreement.'' 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said earlier that negotiations with the rebels could reopen in Malaysia next week. 

The way for resumed talks was opened last month when an MILF leader formally denounced terrorism, a top government demand. 

Arroyo had accused the rebels of ties with the regional militant Islamic network Jemaah Islamiyah, said to be linked to al-Qaeda. 

The Philippine military launched an offensive against the rebel movement earlier this year amid an escalation in rebel attacks and bombings, and sporadic peace talks fell apart. 

Aware that past talks have failed, Arroyo sounded an optimistic tone with the new cease-fire. 

“I ask our people to give peace a chance.  

“As we address the roots of rebellion and secession, I am confident that we shall also effectively isolate and marginalise the dwindling terrorist cells in Mindanao and across our seas in the region. 

“Peace is at hand. We shall forge the political will to preserve it for all generations of Filipinos,'' she said. 

The government gave in to a key rebel demand that arrest warrants be dropped against rebel leaders for alleged involvement in a recent series of deadly bombings. 

The government wanted the group to petition the court for the suspensions, but the rebels don't recognise the Philippine constitution or justice system. 

“The warrants of arrest against the members and staff of the MILF panel have been suspended by the court,'' Arroyo said, adding that corresponding rewards also were being dropped.  

“Safe conduct passes will be issued so that they can travel to the venue of negotiations,'' she said. 

The 90-day passes will be given to MILF chairman Hashim Salamat, the group's military chief and top negotiator Al Haj Murad and eight other top rebels, according to an order signed by the chiefs of the Philippine military and police. 

Kabalu welcomed the suspension of the arrest warrants and said the rebels were waiting for official notice from Malaysia on when the talks will start. – AP  

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