Rebels 'ready to help military'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2007, 12:00am

A Muslim separatist group negotiating peace terms with the government said yesterday it had offered to abandon its strongholds so troops could go after al-Qaeda-linked militants.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leadership made the offer as a gesture of goodwill ahead of an expected resumption of talks in Malaysia later this month, spokesman Eid Kabalu said.

He said the rebels would move out of strongholds in the southern islands 'to give way to a big military offensive' against Abu Sayyaf. 'We are prepared to leave the area, on certain considerations including the security and subsistence of the families of our fighters,' the spokesman said.

He said the offer to temporarily vacate camps was a 'sign of sincerity and co-operation so that the government can focus on lawless elements they are after'.

The 12,000-strong MILF has waged a prolonged rebellion for an Islamic state in the southern Philippines. It signed a truce with the government in 2003, but a lack of co-ordination between forces on both sides has often led to clashes.

In July, renegade MILF guerillas backed by Abu Sayyaf ambushed a military convoy, killing 14 soldiers. Ten of them were beheaded.

The incident sparked outrage and pushed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to mount a massive offensive.

The MILF claimed responsibility for the attack, but said its fighters followed rules of combat and did not mutilate the bodies.

The military later said the offensive was geared towards the Abu Sayyaf, a small gang of militants.

Government negotiators have said peace talks would resume with the MILF this month to coincide with Ramadan, the Islamic fasting season, or soon after.