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Philippines Government Welcomes Cease-Fire - 2003-05-28

The Philippine government is welcoming a unilateral cease-fire declared by rebels in the southern island of Mindanao. President Gloria Arroyo's administration is ready to respond with an offer for a permanent peace agreement.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels say they will begin a 10-day cease-fire on Monday. The group wants the government to respond by withdrawing its forces from rebel camps it has seized and halting operations against rebel positions.

Presidential Chief of Staff Rigoberto Tiglao says the government considers the rebels' offer to be a positive move. "It's a welcome development, 12 days after the president ordered punitive strikes against terrorist cells that seem to embedded in the MILF," he said.

Mr. Tiglao says the government is now seeking to make sure the offer is authentic and that the rebels can control their forces to implement the cease-fire. If the offer is valid, he says President Gloria Arroyo will move toward a permanent peace agreement, which the government already is preparing.

Mr. Tiglao adds, however, that military operations against suspected terrorists in rebel territory will continue. The government suspects that many of those responsible for a series of deadly bombings over the past year are hiding in rebel areas. "Right now, the military is still pursuing some small groups because the main bulk of the MILF, where there are terrorist cells, seems to have dispersed. This, however, cannot be stopped," he said.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu says his group hopes the cease-fire will lead to permanent peace but is also ready to resume fighting if talks fail. He says the move resulted from calls for peace by the Catholic Church and other groups.

The MILF has been fighting for nearly 30 years to create a Muslim homeland in the southern islands of the Philippines, which is a predominately Christian country.