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Former Philippine Governor Returned Home - 2002-01-07

The renegade former governor of the autonomous Muslim region of the southern Philippines has been returned home to face charges of rebellion. Nur Misuari was deported Monday from Malaysia, where he was arrested after fleeing the Philippines six weeks ago.

The former governor of the Philippine Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Nur Misuari, was flown to a Philippine air base Monday under heavy guard.

Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao says Mr. Misuari has been confined at a military base 50 kilometers south of Manila. Mr. Tiglao says the Philippine government hopes to move quickly with the former governor's trial for rebellion. "We are hoping that it would proceed as soon as possible, and the trial would be expeditious, that there would be no delays, so Mr. Misuari would have his day in court, so he wouldn't have to stay in jail if he can prove his innocence," he said.

The former governor fled the Philippines after supporters clashed with Philippine troops in November, on the eve of elections for his successor. More than a hundred people were killed in the violence, and scores more died when his supporters refused to leave government installations after the vote. Mr. Misuari has been charged with rebellion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

He was arrested in Malaysia, which refused his request for political asylum.

Mr. Tiglao acknowledges it would have been convenient to allow the former governor to seek asylum in a third country, but explains why the Philippine government insisted he return for trial. "The nature, the ethos, of this government is to uphold the law," said Rigoberto Tiglao. "And in this case, we would prefer the Philippine justice system decide on his innocence or guilt, rather than having him go in exile, with all these charges left hanging."

Nur Misuari headed the oldest Philippine Muslim separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front, which in the 1970s launched an armed struggle for a separate state in Muslim parts of the predominantly Christian Philippines.

He signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government five years ago that created the Autonomous Muslim Region in the south, and made him its first governor. However, the leadership of the MNLF deposed Mr. Misuari last April, and nominated a rival, Paruk Hussin, for regional governor. Mr. Hussin was inaugurated last week.