GMA TO MILF: STOP ATTACKS OR BE CALLED TERRORISTS  

Manila, March 11, 2003 -- Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is urging leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to stop attacking civilians, as "such actions, including the sabotage of transmission lines, only bolster the argument made by more and more people that the MILF is not a political organization but a terrorist group."

"I'm calling on the MILF leadership to stop such attacks and harassment against civilians," she said press briefing called yesterday after receiving reports that MILF rebels had hijacked a passenger bus outside Pikit, North Cotabato.

In a separate media briefing, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said the government was considering branding the MILF as a terrorist group, warning that doing so could jeopardize efforts to negotiate peace with the Muslim separatists.

Asked whether it was appropriate to label the MILF a terrorist organization as its leaders have been accused of masterminding a deadly bombing last Tuesday outside the international airport in Davao City in Mindanao, Reyes said: "We have not done that yet and we are studying it. This is because we know that it will definitely have repercussions on the peace talks."

The United States had earlier classified the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People's Army -- along with the Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf -- as "foreign terrorist groups," a move which has imperiled peace negotiations with the communist rebels.

Asked if she would declare the MILF as a terrorist group, she said: "I don't want that to happen. That's why I'm asking them to stop these attacks and harassment against civilians."

She also refused to comment on MILF chairman Salamat Hashim's alleged call for war following the military's capture of the Buliok complex, a rebel enclave.

She said her government was still willing to talk peace with the rebels as long as they renounced terrorism and violence.

To fast-track the peace talks, she said she had authorized governors and mayors to make their own peace initiatives with local MILF leaders in their areas.

"The policy is peace talks are available for everybody who wants to renounce violence and terrorism," the President said. "But for those who will persist with violence and terrorism, they will get a taste of the strong arm of the law."


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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