RP MILF suspend armed hostilities

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — THE government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have agreed to suspend military operations to “create an environment conducive to the revival of the formal peace talks” and to end an 11-month impasse in the negotiations.

President Arroyo yesterday ordered the military to “suspend all offensive operations in the conflict-affected areas” in Mindanao.

The rebels would also put their offensives on hold starting Saturday because orders would take time to reach their commanders on the ground, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said in a telephone interview.

“The President’s order is a welcome development that augurs well for the peace talks. But what is important here is the implementation. We will reciprocate,” Iqbal said.

A member of the Cabinet security cluster said government chief negotiator Rafael Seguis and Iqbal agreed during their meeting in Kuala Lumpur early this month to convince their respective principals to suspend military operations.

“The situation in Mindanao is special in the sense that government troops are actually running after the rogue commanders of the MILF and not members of the mainstream MILF,” said the official who asked not to be named.

In the process, clashes between government troops and the mainstream MILF occurred.”

The official said suspending operations on top of an existing ceasefire signaled the government’s determination to end hostilities in Mindanao.

But Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said police and military operations would continue against the three renegade MILF commanders and other criminals in Mindanao, such as the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiyah.

The three rogue MILF commanders—Umbra Kato, Abdullah Macapaar alias Bravo, and Aleem Pangalian—attacked several towns in Central Mindanao in August last year, leaving at least 60 civilians dead in their bloody response to the non-signing of a controversial agreement on territory.

The attacks forced Mrs. Arroyo to suspend peace talks with the MILF, offering a bounty of P25 million for the arrest of the three commanders.

The three commanders and members of the MILF-Special Operations Group were also tagged as responsible for the recent bombings in Cotabato and Iligan, where almost a dozen civilians were killed.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the hunt for the three commanders would continue, with the Armed Forces playing support to the police.

Ermita expressed optimism that the MILF would also abide by an agreement not to provide safe haven to enemies of the state, including its own rogue commanders and the Abu Sayyaf.

Seguis said the suspension of military operations was in keeping with Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to create a new inter-agency task force to spearhead rehabilitation efforts in Central Mindanao, where close to 200,000 residents have been displaced.