Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Philippines strikes ceasefire deal with Muslim guerrillas

DPA , MANILA

The Philippine government and Muslim separatist rebels yesterday agreed on a ceasefire, paving the way for the resumption of peace talks in Malaysia next week, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said.

Arroyo said arrest warrants against key leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have also been lifted by a court in the southern City of Davao, while bounties offered for their capture were lifted by the government.

"Safe conduct passes shall be issued so that they can travel to the venue of the negotiations," she said in a statement.

Arroyo ordered the military to "downgrade our operational status from punitive operations to active defense" against the MILF.

Malaysia was expected to send a team to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire.

Arroyo said the "breakthrough," which removes all technical obstacles to the resumption of formal negotiations with the MILF, was the result of "the relentless back-channeling efforts undertaken by government representatives over several months."

"I call on the panel to immediately enter in formal talks towards a final peace agreement," she added. "Peace is at hand. We shall forge the political will to preserve it for all generations of Filipinos."

The arrest warrants were issued against key MILF leaders, including the group's chairman Salamat Hashim, in connection with bomb attacks earlier in the year in the southern cities of Davao and General Santos, which killed 50 people.

The MILF, however, has vehemently denied involvement in the terror attacks which also injured more than 200 people.

Malaysia, which is hosting the peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government, has stressed the need to lift the arrest warrants to allow rebel negotiators to freely travel to Kuala Lumpur for the negotiations.

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