Zamboanga City, Feb. 25, 2003 -- The MILF is keen on the resumption of peace talks, but Malacañang must go through the Malaysian government to set the date for the next round of peace negotiations, MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said yesterday.

"Because of the recent, very unfortunate, developments in Central Mindanao, the MILF will no longer deal directly with the (government panel) negotiators with regard to the setting of formal talks and formulation of any low-level agreements between the government and the MILF," MILF vice chairman for military affairs Al Haj Murad said from Kuala Lumpur in an interview with Catholic radio station dxMS.

Murad said Malacañang’s emissaries now working out the resumption of the peace talks can only reach the MILF’s peace panel, which he chairs, through the Malaysian government.

Murad declined to reveal the main objective for the new communication scheme, but hinted that it would ensure the "transparency" of the peace talks.

Both panels have accused the other of violating the 1997 and 2001 ceasefire agreement signed by the government and MILF.

The government has accused the MILF of harboring criminal groups, particularly the Pentagon kidnap for ransom gang, in its 2,000-hectare Buliok Complex at Liguasan Marsh in Pikit, North Cotabato.

Last week, the military mounted an offensive that resulted in the death of nearly 200 people, mostly MILF rebels, and the capture of the Buliok complex, where reclusive MILF leader Hashim Salamat’s fortified house is located.

Murad said, "the government justified its offensives on our forces there by saying that the military was flushing out criminal gangs from the area. In reality, not a single known kidnapper or hardened criminal was killed or caught by soldiers during their offensives there."

According to Murad, the continuing military-MILF hostilities in areas the AFP had tagged as criminal havens can only be avoided if both sides will adhere strictly to previous low-level agreements on "mutual cooperation" in neutralizing criminal gangs in areas where rebel forces are scattered. "All of these agreements seemed binding only to the two panels and, unfortunately, did not cover the security (forces) of the Philippine government, such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)," Murad said. (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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