Wed, Aug 08, 2001 - Page 1 News List

Muslim group inks ceasefire pact with Philippine officials

REUTERS , KUALA LUMPUR

The Philippines signed a ceasefire pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Malaysia yesterday, raising hopes of an end to three decades of rebellion on the southern island of Mindanao.

The deal, signed by both sides after days of negotiations, built on a preliminary accord agreed to in Libya, but officials said that further negotiations were required to reach a final peace agreement.

With the mainstream Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) already having signed a peace deal, the only organized Muslim militant group still fighting in the southern Philippines is the Abu Sayyaf, whose main business is kidnap for ransom.

"It will hopefully quiet the guns and stop the fighting on the ground while we are still in the process of negotiating some more," Manila's chief negotiator Jesus Dureza said after inking the pact with the MILF.

Dureza said the two sides would meet again in September.

The ceasefire agreement sets the stage for the two sides to begin talks to cement a lasting peace on Mindanao, the main island in the Muslim-dominated south of the mostly Roman Catholic Philippines.

"As far as security aspects are concerned we are satisfied. We hope this agreement will work," Murad Ebrahim, the leader of the MILF team said.

The signed documents were presented to visiting Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as she met with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia's administrative capital of Putrajaya, just outside Kuala Lumpur.

"It now depends on the sincerity of the Philippine government and whether they can fulfil this agreement," MILF's Ebrahim said.

"Past experience has shown it has always been a problem for them to do so. This will be a test," he said.

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