Gov't signs truce with MILF

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said Friday her government has signed a ceasefire agreement with the Philippines' largest Muslim separatist guerrilla group ahead of peace talks expected shortly in Malaysia.

"Today the peace panels of our government and the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) agreed on a mutual cessation of hostilities," Macapagal said in a statement.


Manila is to issue safe conduct passes to the MILF negotiators, she added.

Malaysia is expected to deploy ceasefire observers to the MILF hotbed of the southern island of Mindanao shortly, the president said, thanking Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad "for his sincere and abiding support" to the peace process.

"I call on the panels to immediately enter in formal talks towards a final peace agreement," Macapagal said.

The truce puts a temporary stop to guerrilla attacks by the 12,500-member MILF on Mindanao. The government earlier said it was optimistic it could reach a political settlement within 90 days from the start of formal negotiations.

The group has been campaigning to carve out a new state from the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines.
Macapagal has also accused the rebels of providing training and sanctuary to foreign "terrorists" linked to the al-Qaeda network of Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden.

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

Macapagal said a lower court in the south has "suspended" arrest warrants issued against certain MILF negotiators accused of masterminding the bombing of an airport and wharf on Mindanao earlier this year, allowing Manila to issue safe conduct passes to 10 of them so they could travel to Malaysia.

This includes MILF chief Salamat Hashim and overall military commander Murad Ebrahim.

The government would also withdraw bounties on the heads of certain MILF personalities, she added.

She ordered the armed forces to "downgrade our operational status from punitive operations to active defense." 


(Posted originally at 4:58 PM)


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Manila signs ceasefire with MILF


The Philippines Government says it has signed a ceasefire agreement with the country's largest Muslim separatist group, ahead of planned peace talks in Malaysia.

Negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) could re-open as early as next week, the government said.


It also promised to drop arrest warrants against MILF leaders, in order to pave the way for talks to resume.


President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo sounded optimistic on Friday as she announced the mutual cessation of hostilities between the two sides, despite the fact that many previous ceasefire deals have come to nothing.


"I ask our people to give peace a chance," she said.


"Peace is at hand. We shall forge the political will to preserve it for all generations of Filipinos."


Ms Arroyo also thanked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad "for his sincere and abiding support" to the peace process in the Philippines, and for offering to host the talks.


Malaysia is also expected to deploy ceasefire observers in the southern island of Mindanao, where most of the MILF rebels are based.


The 12,500-member group is one of several Islamic organisations campaigning for a separate state in the south of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines.


There have been frequent skirmishes between the two sides since the MILF was formed in 1978.


The government has frequently accused the rebels of being behind numerous bomb attacks in the southern Philippines, as well as providing sanctuary for foreign "terrorists" linked to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.


Attacks blamed on the rebels have killed at least 100 people this year.




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