Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Nur Misuari Is Freed, MNLF Praises Arroyo

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 24 Jan) The Moro National Liberation Front on Tuesday praised President Gloria Arroyo for allowing former rebel leader Nur Misuari to undergo medical examination and treatment.

The 65-year old Misuari is currently in jail at a police camp in Laguna province just south of Manila facing rebellion charges after a failed uprising in the southern Philippine island of Jolo in 2001.

"We thanked President Arroyo and the government for granting MNLF chairman Nur Misuari temporary liberty for him to undergo medical examination and treatment," Jamasali Abdurahman, a close aide of Misuari, told the Zamboanga Journal.

He said the court granted Misuari 10 days medical pass together with his close associate Abuhari Usman, 68. They will be transferred to the St. Lukes Hospital in Manila on Wednesday, Abdurahman said.

Misuari has been asking the government since last year to grant him temporary freedom so he can have a complete medical examination and treatment. He had complained of occasional pain in his abdomen and chest, and erratic blood pressure. Misuari was also asking the Department of Justice to bring his trial to Mindanao, instead of holding him in Laguna.

He was almost granted temporary liberty last year, but other Misuari's aides who are also detained want to take a mass leave for medical treatment along with the former rebel chieftain.

Other senior MNLF leaders in Mindanao have asked the President to permanently free Misuari, saying, he had suffered long enough and incarcerated without due process. While some of his followers had threatened to renew hostilities in the southern region if Misuari is not freed.

Even the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest separatist rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, sought Misuari's unconditional release.

Last week, Speaker Hatimil Hassan of the Muslim autonomous region has appealed to President Arroyo to free Misuari for humanitarian reason, adding, the former rebel leader can help in the government's peace process and reconcile the Muslims in Mindanao.

"It is our most sincere wish that the government will immediately release him. The release of brother Nur from jail would do well both for the government and the MNLF."

"Brother Nur can really reconcile the Bangasamoro people and help in the government's peace process. He can unify the people," Hassan said.

State prosecutors said the continued incarceration of Misuari's group is justified because hearing on their petition for bail is still pending in court, but under Philippine penal law, rebellion is considered a heinous crime.

"The case of MNLF chairman Nur Misuari is now pending before the courts and its disposition is entirely within the exclusive jurisdiction and discretion of the presiding judge," said Jesus Dureza, the Presidential peace adviser.

Dureza said he will not oppose if the court will allow Misuari to seek medical treatment.
"On a personal note and without intruding into the merits of his case, I will welcome any humanitarian gesture extended to chairman Nur Misuari if his plea for medical treatment due to his physical condition meets the favorable consideration of the court," he said.

The MNLF, under Misuari, signed a peace agreement with the government in September 1996, ending almost three decades of bloody fighting in the south.
He later became governor of the four-province Muslim autonomous region, but many MNLF members were not satisfied with the accord and accused the government of failing to provide them livelihood and improve their standard of living.

Misuari later accused the government of reneging on its promise to help develop war-torn areas in Mindanao and led a failed rebellion in Jolo island that coincided with the planned elections in the autonomous region that would eventually put him out of the race.

The fighting on the island left dozens of people dead and wounded and spread to Zamboanga City where Misuari's loyal soldiers held hostage more than 100 people, triggering three days of fierce fighting that killed many rebels and civilians. Misuari then fled to Sabah, but was arrested and deported to the Philippines and jailed.

It was Dureza who escorted Misuari back home. "As his friend, I have the highest respects for him and I wish him well," Dureza said.

Just this month, the government allowed Misuari to attend prayers during the Eid'l Adha celebration in the Blue Mosque in Taguig City after the Makati Regional Trial Court gave him permission. (With reports from Melody Ibo)

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