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Philippine President Rejects Rebel Truce Offer - 2003-05-30


Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is dismissing an offer by Islamic rebels for a 10-day truce beginning Monday.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is calling the offer of a truce by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, a "ploy and a tactical ruse."

Ms. Arroyo, in a statement, said the government would continue its offensive, until communities in the southern Philippines were safe from attacks.

The strong stance by Ms. Arroyo follows fighting in recent days between the Philippine military and MILF forces. Two days after the truce offer on Tuesday, the MILF staged a guerilla raid on three southern villages, which left up to 10 people, including civilians, dead.

Ms. Arroyo initially welcomed the offer, and described the move as a positive development.

But MILF spokesman, Eid Kabalu, told VOA the cease-fire would still go ahead, and that he regretted the government's rejection of the offer.

"Talks could start immediately, should the government really want to push through the peace talks," he said. "But unless the government should comply with this, it is very difficult… What is the point of going to another round of talks, if agreement such as this could not be implemented on the ground?"

The MILF offer came after a government offensive against the rebels that began on May 17, just as Ms. Arroyo left for an official visit to the United States. At the same time, the government issued an ultimatum demanding that the MILF stop killing civilians by June 1, or be labeled a terrorist organization, potentially ending all negotiations.

Several attempts at brokering peace have floundered. The government stopped Malaysian-backed peace talks with the MILF after a series of attacks in Mindinao earlier this year.

Mr. Kabalu says the MILF wants the government to honor agreements set down in March, which would open the way for fresh peace talks.

The MILF has been fighting for three decades to establish an independent Islamic state in a country where the predominant religion is Roman Catholic. The revolt has killed at least 100,000 people and severely weakened the provincial economy.