Philippines President Gloria Arroyo
has demanded Hashim denounce
'terrorism'

The reclusive leader of the Philippines’ main Muslim separatist group on Sunday denied for the first time links with the Islamist Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional group and said he was committed to reviving stalled peace talks with Manila.

 

In a rare statement Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Hashim said, "terrorism was anathema to the teachings of Islam".

  

"To stress seriously this point, I hereby reiterate our condemnation and abhorrence of terrorist tendencies,” he said.

 

Arroyo said in a statement, Manila would respond "with a policy of calibrated reciprocation" so that actions carried out by alleged "terrorists" were halted.

 

Arroyo said Hashim's statement coincided with the discovery of a cache of explosives in an area dominated by the MILF on Mindanao island.

 

The Philippines President has accused the MILF of harbouring so-called "terrorists", allegedly responsible for a spate of bombings and attacks that have left about 100 people dead since March.

 

Statement welcomed

 

Government chief peace negotiator Eduardo Ermita welcomed the MILF statement as "an important confidence-building measure", adding that it "fulfils one of the conditions of President (Gloria) Arroyo for peace negotiations to move forward."

  

Anticipating further progress in the peace process, the government is taking essential steps to establish a permanent ceasefire and formal negotiations leading to a final peace agreement, Ermita said.

  

A unilateral ceasefire declared by the MILF lapsed on Sunday, but the rebels said they would maintain it indefinitely while waiting for a corresponding gesture from the military.

 

The military said they are still
observing the ceasefire

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said both sides were meeting in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, on a proposed accord calling for "disengagement" by their forces in battle areas on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.

 

Pending a similar ceasefire declaration by the Philippine armed forces, "we are maintaining a position of active defence," Kabalu said.

 

"This means that we will not launch attacks unless we are attacked. Technically, we are still holding onto a ceasefire," he said.

 

The MILF is the biggest of four groups fighting for a separate Muslim state in the south of this mainly Roman Catholic country. It has been active since 1977 in the Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao and neighbouring islands.

 

The JI reportedly aims to set up a pan-Islamic state, embracing parts of Southeast Asia and is accused of having links to al-Qaeda.

 

Mayor killed

 

Meanwhile, suspected communist guerrillas killed a Philippine town mayor and a civilian aide while wounding six others in an pre-dawn attack on Sunday, the military said.

  

Mayor Guererro Zaragoza of Tayug town in the northern province of Pangasinan was attacked while about to leave an arena holding cock fights, a popular gambling activity in the Philippines.

  

A brief gunbattle ensued between his bodyguards and men believed to be members of the communist New People's Army (NPA), leading to casualties, the military said.

  

Intelligence reports said the mayor had received threats from the NPA for alleged "crimes against the people."

 

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, waging a lengthy separatist rebellion in the countryside since 1969. It operates in rural Luzon, Visayas and parts of Mindanao.