MILF-GOVT AGREEMENT TOWARDS CEASEFIRE, PEACE TALKSManila, March 30, 2003 -- - Government negotiators and Muslim separatist guerrillas said on Sunday they have agreed to work toward resuming stalled peace talks and halting fighting which has raged in recent weeks. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas broke off all contact with government peace negotiators after losing a major stronghold in a government military offensive last month. The recent fighting, among the fiercest in years, has killed scores on both sides and displaced about 70,000 villagers in the violence-wracked provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao on southern Mindanao island. The two sides signed an agreement at Malaysian-brokered talks this past week in Kuala Lumpur pledging to take steps to resume the stalled talks and "exercise mutual restraint to minimize, if not put an end to, violence in Mindanao," government chief negotiator Jesus Dureza told a news conference. In a joint statement, the government and the rebels reiterated their commitment to work for a political settlement of the separatist war the guerrillas have been waging for years in resource-rich but economically backward Mindanao. Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said his comrades launched several attacks on army positions early Sunday because the agreement with the government had not yet reached their field commanders. "We are ready to abide by any agreement but it takes some time to communicate with our commands. We're firmly committed to work for peace," Kabalu said. About 80 guerrillas bombarded an army detachment with rocket-propelled grenades and rifle fire in Columbio town in Sultan Kudarat province, near North Cotabato, at dawn Sunday, injuring a soldier, a pro-government militiaman and a civilian, army Col. Agustin Dima-ala said. Kabalu said the guerrillas captured several soldiers from the detachment and destroyed an armored troop carrier, but Dima-ala denied those claims as rebel propaganda. Another group of rebels fired volleys of rocket-propelled grenades at an army camp in North Cotabato's Carmen town early Sunday but did not cause any casualties, army Maj. Onting Alon said. In Pikit, a North Cotabato town hard-hit by the recent fighting, a clash broke out between government troops and an undetermined number of rebels shortly after midnight Sunday. Kabalu said six guerrillas were wounded in the fighting.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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