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Philippines rejects call to halt offensives against Muslim rebels


Manila : The Philippines Sunday rejected calls to halt military offensives against Muslim separatist rebels who launched a spate of deadly attacks in the country’s troubled south.

Eduardo Ermita, presidential executive secretary, said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) should take responsibility for the attacks that killed 102 people and displaced more than 240,000 residents.

He said the MILF must rein in its commanders and fighters, who have allegedly become frustrated over setbacks in peace talks with the government.

“Their recalcitrant members were the ones who started this, which caused the death of innocent civilians,” he said. “It is the job of the armed forces and the police to provide security and protection.”

Press Secretary Jesus Durez said MILF rebels must “stand down” and allow government forces “to enforce the law” against the guerrillas who launched the attacks.

“Short of that, there will be no let up in government offensives,” he said.

MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim on Saturday urged the government to halt the military offensives, warning that the operations were threatening the peace process.

He also called on Malaysia – which has been brokering peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government – to resume the negotiations to end the fighting.

While Ermita stressed that the Philippine government was still committed to holding peace negotiations with the MILF, he said the MILF must ensure that its members do not engage in criminal acts.

“We have not scuttled the negotiations but we need a proper ceasefire mechanism that we should follow,” he said.

“We want to continue peace negotiations but not at the expense of our laws,” Dureza added. “We have gone a long way for peace, but not at the expense of our innocent civilians.”

The MILF and the government signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003. An international team of monitors has been in Mindanao since 2004, but its mandate will expire on Aug 31.

The two sides would have to agree to extend the mandate of the monitoring team, whose presence in Mindanao has helped reduce fighting between the rebels and the military before the recent outbreak of violence.

The hostilities in Mindanao erupted after the Supreme Court Aug 4 blocked the signing of an agreement to expand an existing autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

MILF rebels attacked towns, burned homes, ransacked business and government officials and ambushed military targets and private vehicles.

The Office of Civil Defence said 240,101 civilians have been displaced by the fighting in several provinces affected by the rebel attacks and the military’s offensives.

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of an independent Islamic state in Mindanao. It has been waging the secessionist struggle since 1978.