GMA TO MILF CHIEF SALAMAT: CONVINCE US
On the other hand, Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes said yesterday he hopes peace talks between the government and the MILF would resume after Salamat had publicly rejected terrorism.
"This is definitely good news for all of us, especially for us in the government who have been reaching out to the MILF so we could all go back to the negotiating table and sign the final peace agreement," he said.
Reyes said Salamat must accept the government’s offer of a "permanent ceasefire" as part of efforts to resume peace talks.
"This is a big step towards confidence-building measures between the two parties," he said. "We all hoped that Mr. Salamat will heed our call for a permanent ceasefire."
Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said yesterday the government would unlikely give in to Salamat’s call for a ceasefire within a week.
"The government is observing a high degree of self-restraint," he said. "That policy will continue."
Agreeing with Ople, Malaysian Ambassador Mohammad Taufik said the MILF should show more sincerity in returning to the negotiating table.
"It remains exactly whether the MILF is serious in it," he said. "But we should give them the benefit of having to prove themselves. Malaysia looks forward to having both parties back at the negotiating table."
Indonesian chargé d’affaires Alexander Laturiuw said the Philippines should analyze Salamat’s peace overtures as diplomacy always takes a chance for a peaceful solution.
"So this kind of statement, (you should) always take care and seriously analyze," he said. "But once again I will emphasize we are glad because diplomacy is always looking and working for peaceful solutions."
Reinforcing Mrs. Arroyo’s doubts on MILF peace efforts, soldiers killed two rebels and wounded at least three others yesterday at the border of Kabuntalan, Maguindanao and Cotabato City.
Hostilities erupted in Barangay Tayan when the rebels opened fire at Army troops searching for MILF leaders Ghadzali Jaafar and Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim.
The soldiers recovered from the slain rebels assorted ammunition, live B-40 anti-tank rockets, two shoulder-fired rocket launchers and improvised blasting devices for home-made bombs.
Since last week, troops from the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and the 3rd, 57th, 47th and 37th Infantry Battalions have been scouring Kabuntalan, a known lair of kidnappers, following reports that Murad, Jaafar and their bodyguards had been sighted there.
Last Sunday, troops stumbled on an MILF bomb-making facility and recovered almost a thousand kilos of assorted blasting powders, ammonium nitrate and other combustible substances used in making powerful explosives.
Apart from the estimated P5 million worth of ingredients for bomb-making, the soldiers, led by 6th ID commander Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga, also seized assorted bomb-making tools, including pipe wrenches, a plastic lamination machine, and special calibration devices for measuring chemical weight and volume.
Lt. Gen. Roy Kyamko, Armed Forces Southern Command chief, said the government has raised a P5-million reward each for the capture of Salamat, Murad, Jaafar and Salamat’s two lieutenants, Alim Abdulazis Mimbantas and MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu.
Warrants of arrest have been issued for the five rebels leaders in connection with the recent bombings in Southern Mindanao.
Murad and Jaafar had earlier eluded arrest during a military raid at their safehouses in Barangay Simuay in Sultan Kudarat town in Maguindanao.
The two had reportedly escaped from the two-hectare compound of the MILF’s liaison office in Barangay Simuay just as soldiers had started surrounding the area.
In yesterday’s encounter in Barangay Tayan, the military had to use attack helicopters to pound rebel positions.
The rebels were reportedly seen bringing with them big cans and plastic bags containing "mysterious substances," which Army probers said could be ingredients for making bombs, as they fled towards Liguasan Marsh.
In a statement Sunday, Salamat said the MILF did not have any links with the Indonesian-based terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and publicly denounced terrorism.
Mrs. Arroyo has demanded that the MILF publicly renounce terrorism as a key government condition for resuming peace talks. — With reports from Bong Fabe, Sammy Santos, Mike Frialde, Pia Lee-Brago, John Unson, Jaime Laude
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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