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Philippines:  Discovery of MILF Explosives Cache Could Endanger Peace Talks - 2003-06-26

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is warning a Muslim militant group that the discovery of an explosives cache may endanger the possibility of peace talks. And, a Philippine communist rebel group is being blamed for the killing of at least 17 people in an attack in the central part of the country.

President Arroyo is warning the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that the possibility of peace talks does not mean the government will be blind to threats.

Mrs. Arroyo says the Philippine military seized 450 kilograms of C-4 plastic explosive at a suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front facility. Philippine military leaders say it would be enough to blow up a 10-story building. Mrs. Arroyo says there is not even that much C-4 in the country's armed-forces arsenal.

Mrs. Arroyo is demanding the Moro Islamic Liberation Front provide information about the explosive, including where it came from, and whom it was meant to target. The group denies owning the explosive.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has fought for 25 years for an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. But the group revived hopes for peace talks recently, when it agreed to renounce terrorism and denied having ties to international extremist groups.

The Philippine foreign minister says he expects peace talks to resume next Tuesday. He says the United States will provide diplomatic and financial support in seeking an agreement between the government and the rebels.

Malaysia is considering a request from the Philippines to lead an international team to monitor a ceasefire between the rebels and the government. Malaysia has been the host for unofficial negotiations between the two sides.

On a separate front, militants from the New People's Army, killed at least 17 people in an attack on an army camp in the central Philippines.

The New People's Army has fought for a Marxist state for more than 30 years. The United States and the European Union list the group as a terrorist organization. It has a history of threatening villagers with violence unless they pay, so-called, revolutionary taxes.

The Philippines suspended peace talks with the New People's Army two years ago, after the group killed two lawmakers. The government of Norway is trying to mediate a return to the negotiating table.