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Philippine Government Puts Price on Head of Muslim Rebel Commander


The Philippine government has offered a bounty for the capture of a Muslim guerrilla commander on the southern island of Jolo, where recent fighting has killed at least 21 people. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

The military has offered one million pesos, about $21,000, for information leading to the capture of Habier Malik, a renegade commander of the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF.

Malik's group last week fired mortar rounds on two Philippine Marine camps, and subsequent fighting displaced thousands of people and led to more than a score of deaths. Malik was involved in another dispute with the military in February, when he held a Philippine general hostage for two days.

The military says Malik has several hundred armed followers, and may now be working with the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group. Abu Sayyaf says it is fighting for a Muslim homeland in the Philippines, a mostly Catholic country, but is known primarily for kidnappings for ransom.

The military says the bounty offer is aimed at Malik and his followers, and not at the MNLF, with which the government has a peace treaty.

Jesus Dureza is the top government advisor on the peace process with the southern Muslims. He told ABS-CBN television that Malik's actions work against the interests of the MNLF.

"There is a higher consideration as you know, in our engagement with the MNLF leader," he said. "There is a partnership in our effort against the Abu Sayyaf. And we have seen positive results in this cooperation. And in the course of this, we see again, Malik doing his own thing."

The military offered the bounty despite a call by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, for a ceasefire with Malik's forces. The OIC brokered a peace deal between the government and the MNLF in 1996, but the agreement has failed in its promise to lead to improvements in the economy of the South.

Meanwhile, authorities on Jolo announced Tuesday that seven people were taken captive by Abu Sayyaf gunmen in the town of Parang, including six men working on a road project. A search is under way for the missing.

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