The largest armed separatist group in the Philippines has declared truce with the government, following a similar move by the military and signals a possible end to the ten-month hostility that has killed hundreds in the Muslim Mindanao region.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)'s secluded leader Murad Ebrahim has signed the suspension of all military actions against the government and the group's guerrilla fighters are asked to strictly implement the truce, the Manila Times said.
An order was issued to the estimated 12,000 members Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces to "support and co-operate with efforts to revitalise and strengthen ceasefire mechanisms on the ground".
"This is meant to reciprocate the government move," Eid Kabalu, the group's spokesman, said.
It came two days after Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the military to suspend attacks towards the 11,800-member MILF, to pave the way for the resumption of the halted peace talks since last August.
Last August, the failure to sign a key agreement in the peace progress - granting autonomy and the civil settlement of the MILF’s armed members, prompted rogue MILF fighters to attack Christian communities in the Muslim Mindanao, leaving 60 civilians dead. The government immediately scrapped the negotiation panel and ordered troops to aggressively hunt down radical MILF guerrillas.
Exploratory talks aimed at paving the way for the resumption of stalled peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the return of about 60 monitors from Malaysia, Brunei, Libya and Japan who pulled out in November 2008 will be held in Kuala Lumpur in a couple of days.
When reached for comment, Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, declined to elaborate on the exploratory talks but confirmed that the rebel panel meeting with its counterpart early August.
"There is no definite date as of yet but it might take place early next month," Iqbal said.
Iqbal told the Reuters news agency that his group would discuss government plans to return more than 300,000 displaced families to their homes before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late August.
Al Jazeera, Philippines rebels call ceasefire, 25 July 2009, http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/07/20097251555353397...
Inquirer, Gov’t, MILF to hold August talks in Malaysia, 26 July 2009, http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/regions/view/20090726-217290/G...
Reuters, Muslim rebels halt attacks in Philippine south, 25 July 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSMAN406386
Xinhua News, Philippine Muslim rebels declare reciprocal truce with government, 26 July 2009, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-07/26/content_11774254.htm