Beleaguered guerillas sign cease-fire
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Muslim separatists yesterday finally bowed to government and military pressure by signing a 'general cessation of hostilities', dropping all preconditions.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front - considered the second biggest threat to national security - also promised to resume peace talks on July 30, with its second biggest camp still in government hands and the main camp surrounded by soldiers.
It was the first time the Front had formally bound itself to such a pact, covering the island of Mindanao and, technically, the entire country. The Front's vice-chairman for political affairs, Ghazali Jaafar, signed the two-page agreement.
Hours earlier, rebels fired at a rice warehouse in Pikit, North Cotabato. In Aleosan, Cotabato, 20 rebels sparked a traffic jam when they asked residents to leave the area so they could blow up a bridge linking Cotabato City to Davao City. But the rebels fled, firing their guns, when police and soldiers arrived.
More incidents could take place over the weekend before the agreement takes effect. The rebels promised from Monday 'to resume and proceed with the formal peace talks'.
They also agreed the Sub-Committee on Cessation of Hostilities would meet on July 30 'to draw up and finalise the guidelines and ground rules for the implementation of the agreement'.
The general cease-fire was signed by Jaafar and government chief negotiator Fortunato Abat in a Christian-dominated city far from the fighting. Presidential Executive Secretary Ruben Torres and Defence Secretary Renato de Villa 'attested' to it.
The signing was witnessed by four other government officials and five rebel chiefs, including two from its governing body, the Central Committee, and Sammy Al Mansour, deputy chief of its army.
Noticeably absent was Nur Misuari, rebel chief turned Governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, from whose organisation the Front broke away 18 years ago.
The Moro National Liberation Front leader was directed last week by President Fidel Ramos to try to get the separatists back to the negotiating table.
The agreement could test the sincerity of both sides to resolve the conflict peacefully and could indicate the degree of control the rebel leadership has over field commanders.
Armed Forces chief Arnulfo Acedera had alleged that the separatist movement was fragmenting over such issues as revolutionary taxes, kidnapping and peace talks.
Alhaj Murad, the Front vice-chairman for military affairs, claimed the recent military offensive against the group was not an anti-kidnapping operation but a way of weakening their position at the negotiating table.
He also claimed Mr Ramos wanted to bring about a situation that would justify martial rule and the postponement of presidential elections.
Mr Ramos denied the accusations and said he wanted to be remembered as a 'peace-maker'.