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Philippine Islamic Rebels Begin 10 Day Ceasefire - 2003-06-02

Islamic rebels in the southern Philippines have begun a 10-day ceasefire. But, the government is calling on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to renounce terrorism and turn in members who are suspected of being responsible for a series of deadly bombings.

The unilateral ceasefire by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front begins two weeks after the Philippine government began a military campaign against the rebels. As part of the 10 day ceasefire, the MILF calls for government troops to withdraw from guerrilla-controlled areas. The group also wants the government to cancel arrest warrants for several MILF leaders.

While the government initially welcomed the ceasefire, clashes last week angered President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who called the offer to halt the fighting an MILF ploy. The military says fighting with the rebels in the past few days resulted in at least 23 deaths.

Ignacio Bunye, President Arroyo's press secretary, said "the declaration of the temporary truce would not necessarily signal a sincere desire for peace. For all we know it may be a ploy to just allow them to reconsolidate their troops and resources, so we're watching the situation very closely."

Mr. Bunye says the MILF needs to renounce terrorism and surrender those suspected in recent bombings in Mindanao.

Since early this year, a series of bombings, mostly in the southern Philippines, has killed more than two hundred people. The bombings prompted the government to call off peace talks several weeks ago.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said the ceasefire offer is genuine. "It is really a response to the call by various sectors in Mindanao - the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, the non-government organizations, [the] peace advocates," he said. "They have been appealing to the MILF and the government to declare a ceasefire and possibly go back to the negotiating table."

Mr. Kabalu also denies that the MILF has links with the regional terrorist organization, Jemaah Islamiyah. That group has some ties with the al-Qaida network of Osama bin Laden.

The MILF has been fighting for almost three decades to create an Islamic nation in the southern regions of largely Roman Catholic Philippines.