Saturday, July 25, 2009

Philippine Muslim rebels halt offensives in troubled South

Muslim villagers call for a halt in fighting in the southern Philippines while troops shell Moro rebels in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 25, 2009) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has declared truce on Saturday, ending fierce fighting that killed more than 1,500 soldiers and rebels in the volatile region of Mindanao.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said Murad Ebrahim, the secluded leader of the MILF, has signed the suspension of all military actions against the government.

He said Ibrahim ordered rebel forces to strictly implement the truce.

“We are reciprocating the government’s suspension of military operations against the MILF. With these declarations of cease-fire, we can now move on and talk about peace in Mindanao,” Iqbal told the Mindanao Examiner.

Iqbal said the truce is important for the resumption of the peace talks. “This is confidence-building measure so the peace process can move on without any obstacles,” he said.

Filipino leader Gloria arroyo ordered a halt on all military offensives against the MILF in an effort to revive the stalled peace talks. Arroyo’s decision came after the military said its arsenal is being depleting by the fighting which began last year after the peace talks collapsed.

Security officials said more than a thousand rebels were killed in the fighting, but the MILF disputed the report and claimed that mujahideen forces had killed as many as 500 government soldiers.

More than half a million people were also displaced in the war and are currently in temporary refugee shelters in Maguindanao province.

The MILF previously said it would only resume the peace talks if Arroyo honors the Muslim ancestral domain deal that negotiators initially signed in July last year.

Arroyo scrapped the homeland deal after the Supreme Court stopped the formal signing of the accord that would have granted some four million Muslims their own homeland in more than 700 villages across Mindanao.

The MILF’s announcement of truce came after police announced the capture of an alleged MILF bomber, Salman Mohamad Ali, in the Maguindanao town of Shariff Aguak on Thursday.

Ali was tagged as behind the July 5 bombing outside a Catholic church in Cotabato City that killed 6 people and wounded over 50 others.

Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said his group has nothing to do with the bombing. “The MILF has no involvement in the bombing,” he said.

The MILF is fighting the past three decades for self-determination. (Mindanao Examiner)

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