ABS-CBN News

MILF accuses military amid peace talks

Posted at | Updated as of 10/06/12 7:08 AM

MANILA – Muslim rebels waging a decades-long insurgency in the southern Philippines said Friday the military had provocatively violated a ceasefire as peace negotiators held crucial talks.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) issued the accusation amid talks in Malaysia that the government has said could lead to the imminent signing of a roadmap to end the insurgency that has claimed more than 150,000 lives.

The MILF said the Philippine Marines had deployed more than 100 troops near Palimbang, a town on the southern Muslim homeland of Mindanao island where rebel troops were stationed, describing the move as "provocative".

"These troops of marines are not respecting and violating the ceasefire accord and the primacy of the peace process between the government and the MILF," said a statement on its website.

The troops arrived on Tuesday, the same day that the Malaysia talks began, according to the statement.

"We can not understand why they are doing it deliberately... while the talks are ongoing.

"It is only the government to blame when firefight erupts."

The military said it had moved troops into the area near Palimbang, but denied it had broken the ceasefire with the 12,000-strong MILF.

The marine unit's commander, Colonel Alexander Balutan, insisted they were enforcing arrest warrants against "lawless elements" -- none of them MILF members -- who had illegally cut down trees in Palimbang.

"We have been directed by no less than (President Benigno Aquino) to conduct anti-illegal logging operations," Balutan told reporters.

"I am not targeting the MILF nor any of their camps. They have no camps in the area."

The MILF and other Muslim rebel groups have been fighting for independence or autonomy in Mindanao, a resource-rich region they regard as their ancestral homeland, since the early 1970s.

After months of intense talks, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen said on Tuesday that the two sides were on the brink of an "historic" agreement that could outline the path towards a final peace pact.

The MILF negotiators also expressed optimism, but cautioned there were still many obstacles to overcome.
This latest round of peace talks are expected to wrap up this weekend.

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