Key Philippines rebel leader dead

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- The head of the biggest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines has died.

Hashim Salamat, who rejected terrorism last month to facilitate talks with the government, died July 13 after suffering a major heart attack June 29, MILF spokesman Eid Kadalu told CNN.

The vice chairman of military affairs for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will replace him, the group said Monday.

His successor, Al Haj Murad, has been with the MILF since Salamat became its founding chairman 30 years ago. Murad was chosen at central committee meetings held in late July.

The death announcement was delayed because it took time to notify family members, and the group wanted to choose a successor before making the death public, Kadalu said.

A rebel spokesman has said they are committed to resuming peace talks with the government, despite Salamat's death.

Salamat's renunciation of terrorism last month was one of the key demands made by the government for talks.

The MILF has fought for decades for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines, but recently agreed to resume talks with the government of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been struggling to contain terrorism in the country.

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the MILF has been accused of carrying out terrorist acts in the southern Philippines.

Talks between the rebels and the government that were to have taken place this week have been delayed.

Salamat had been accused by Western intelligence agencies of having ties to Osama bin Laden.

Agents told CNN they have transcripts of Salamat speaking with bin Laden in 1999, during which bin Laden asked Salamat to open al Qaeda training camps in the southern Philippines. Some of those camps are still open.


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