MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines announced on Thursday it had cancelled a peace deal with the country's biggest Muslim rebel group after fighting broke out this week, but a guerrilla leader rejected its calls for re-negotiation.
The announcement by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government that it was giving up on the agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forged only last month looks certain to prolong a decades-long conflict in the south.
"The cancellation of the memorandum of agreement is a painful step in our collective effort to come to an agreement with the MILF," Lorelei Fajardo, a spokeswoman for Arroyo, said in a statement to reporters.
"She (Arroyo) will seek a new agreement within the boundaries of law set within the constitution. Furthermore, the president will not allow adventurism by MILF forces to pressure government to sign any agreement even if it is for peace."
The peace deal, which envisaged the enlargement of a Muslim autonomous area in the Mindanao region, has been halted by the Supreme Court pending hearing an appeal by Christian groups that it was unconstitutional.
Earlier this week, about 40 people were killed when MILF renegades, angered at the stalling of the agreement, attacked two towns in the volatile south of the country.
The government has reinforced troops in the region and has ordered that they pursue the attackers. The military said five people were wounded in fighting on Wednesday.
It is the worst violence for years in the Mindanao region, where the rebellion has prevented any significant development of some of the richest mineral and hyrdrocarbon resources in Southeast Asia.
The MILF rejected any possibility of re-negotiating the deal.
"We will not re-negotiate, it's already finished," Mohaqher Iqbal, the group's chief negotiator, told reporters. "It's been three years and eight months."
"They studied it and scheduled the signing and then they cancel everything. What is that?"
The Philippine government and the 11,000-member MILF have been in on-off talks for more than a decade on how to give Muslims more self-rule in the south.
At least 120,000 people have been killed in 40 years of conflict on Mindanao.
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