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When a truce becomes a liability...

Updated On: Feb 04, 2005

Manila- When you are fighting three different yet somewhat relatedwars,a truce on one frontmay not necessarily be a good thing.

In fact, as the Philippine military has discovered,the government's ceasefire with the MoroIslamic Liberation Front (MILF) is causing problems in its campaigns againstthe Abu Sayyaf andJemaah Islamiah (JI).

Under the terms of the 2002ceasefire, the military is required to inform the MILFin advance before attackingthe areas it controls inMindanao. But such advancewarning allows Abu Sayyaf and JI members, who have sought shelter in these areas, to flee beforegovernment forces can strike, saidthe Philippine Armed Forces chief of staff, General Efren Abu, on Feb 1.

To circumvent this problem, the military would inform the MILF shortly beforean attack on its territories. "If you tell them very much early, nothing will happen," Gen Abu said.

The MILF, which isnegotiating a peace agreement with the government, has longdenied allegations that it offers refuge to Abu Sayyaf, a Muslimrebel group specialising in kidnapping,and JI members, who are linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

Last week, the MILF lodged a protest afterthe military launched air strikes on MILF territory, where renegade MILF commander Wahid Kalil Tondok was allegedly hiding Abu Sayyaf and JI members.

Despite the renewed clashes and worries about infiltration by JI members into the rebels' ranks, peace talks between the government and the MILF will be held as scheduled inKuala Lumpurin the "next few weeks", officials said.

Both sides are waiting for a schedule of the talks to be released by the Malaysian government, which is hosting the talks,MalacanangPalacecommunications director Silvestre Afable told a forum of foreign correspondents on Feb 2.

Retired general Rodolfo Garcia, a member of the peace panel, said that despite the continuing tensions, peace prospects were improving, with the number of violent ceasefire violations falling from 500 in 2003 to about 70 last year.

* RP-MILF peace talks to push through (The Philippine Star, Feb 3)

*MILF truce causing problems in war with Abu, JI - military (Inquirer News Service, Feb 2)