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Philippine Muslim Rebel Leader Renounces Terrorism - 2003-06-22


The leader of a Muslim rebel group in the Philippines has renounced terrorism, a move that might lead to new peace talks with the government. By late Sunday, the government had said only the statement was a good sign, but had given no detailed response. Despite the statement, the rebels have not extended their unilateral ceasefire.

Salamat Hashim, the leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, says his group condemns and abhors terrorism. Mr. Hashim's statement, was issued Saturday. The Philippine government had demanded that the MILF renounce terrorism and any links to regional or international terrorist groups.

Eid Kabalu is a spokesman for the MILF. He said the group has never had ties to groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which allegedly wants to create an Islamic state throughout much of Southeast Asia. That group is suspected of being responsible for a number of bombings and attacks in the region, including the devastating explosion in a Bali tourist district last year that killed 202 people.

Mr. Kabalu said the MILF is waiting for the government to make its next move. He said his organization's main goal is to restart peace talks, which have been stalled for months, after the government blamed several fatal bombings in the southern Philippines on the MILF. "The church organizations, the peace advocates groups, so many groups, right now are demanding for the MILF and the government to go back to the formal negotiations," he said.

However, he said the MILF has not extended its unilateral ceasefire, which ended Saturday night. The group last month announced a 10 day ceasefire, which it then extended for 10 more days. "We now return back to our defensive positions. We only attack if it is attacked by the armed forces of the Philippines," he said.

The MILF has been fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the southern Philippines for nearly three decades.

Although formal peace negotiations have stalled, the two sides were holding informal meetings in Malaysia on Sunday to try to move the process forward.

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