Philippine Muslim rebels call for peace talks


Cotabato City (The Philippines) : The Philippines’ largest Muslim separatist rebel group Saturday called for immediate resumption of peace talks with the government as the military claimed that at least 100 guerrillas were killed in three days of clashes.

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Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said his group has already asked Malaysia – which has been brokering the peace talks – to convene the peace panels of the rebel group and the Philippine government.

“We have sent information to our facilitator two days ago but there is no response to date,” he told at a press conference in a guerrilla camp outside the southern city of Cotabato, 930 km south of capital Manila.

Murad hinted that the MILF will intensify armed struggle if the hostilities in the southern region of Mindanao were not immediately contained.

“We will continue our struggle in whatever form,” he said.

Regional army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando said airstrikes and ground assaults would continue against MILF rebels in seven towns in Maguindanao province, 960 km south of Manila.

The offensive was aimed at flushing out two senior commanders of the MILF who led bloody attacks on several towns in the nearby provinces of North Cotabato, Sarangani, Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, Ando said.

Ando said 24 soldiers were wounded since the offensive started Wednesday.

The MILF rebels went on a deadly rampage in the southern region of Mindanao, burning homes, ransacking businesses and government buildings, and ambushing military targets and private vehicles in the affected towns.

More than 100 people were killed in the attacks and ensuing clashes with the military, while some 160,000 residents were displaced due to the hostilities.

The attacks followed the aborted signing of a territorial agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government, which would have expanded an existing autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, the country’s main southern island.

The Philippine government scrapped the deal amid strong opposition by Catholic politicians, who challenged the agreement’s constitutionality in the Supreme Court.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo stressed that her government remains committed to negotiating peace with the MILF, but said the rebel group must take responsibility for the deadly attacks and surrender the commanders that led them.

But Murad said he will not surrender the MILF commanders involved in the deadly attacks.

“We cannot subject our members to the laws of the government,” he said. “We are a revolutionary force.”