, March 11, 2005
(STAR) By Aurea Calica -  President Arroyo insisted yesterday that only certain elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have links with the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

It is these MILF elements that have been providing JI members with training facilities in MILF-controlled areas, she said.

The President told the press she could not say what was new about the United States report on terrorism in Southeast Asia.

"There are some MILF elements that are linked with the Jemaah Islamiyah — some elements because they’re related to one another — but not the MILF that we are in peace talks with," Mrs. Arroyo said. "In fact, America would be the last to put them (the MILF) on the list of terrorists, because America is supportive of our peace process."

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said reports of alleged links between the JI and the MILF are constantly being verified by intelligence agencies, even as he lauded efforts by the mainstream MILF faction to help the government run after terrorists and criminal elements.

Ermita said the MILF has recently signed an agreement creating an ad hoc body composed of representatives from government and the MILF to monitor the activities of criminals and terrorists.

The accord also states that the MILF will not allow the JI or other terrorist and kidnapping groups to have sanctuary in areas the separatist group controls, Ermita added.

The MILF has helped authorities rescue at least three kidnap victims from their captors over the past several months, he added.

Ermita also said the MILF leadership has also called for a ceasefire in Sulu and offered to negotiate with a renegade faction of the Moro National Liberation Front still battling troops in the province. "All of these are indications of the cooperation of the MILF in order to preserve and maintain the present peaceful atmosphere that would lead to a peaceful resumption of negotiations between the government and the MILF."

The negotiations between the government and MILF peace panels is expected to resume in Kuala Lumpur soon, with ancestral domain as part of the agenda.

A report from Washington said that despite repeated denials by the Muslim secessionist group, evidence "shows it has strong links with and provides the Indonesian terror group training facilities in its area of control in Mindanao."

An updated US Congressional Research Service report said "evidence, including the testimonies of captured (JI) leaders, has pointed to strong links between the MILF and JI, including the continued training of JI terrorists in MILF camps."

The report, first issued in November 2003 and updated last month, said the training appeared to be important to the JI’s ability to replenish its ranks as more and more of its members were arrested.

Peace talks between the MILF and the government are set to resume this month, according to officials. Despite delays, they said they could see no reason for Malaysia not to set a date for the resumption of the peace talks in Kuala Lumpur soon.

An International Monitoring Team led by Malaysia is now in Mindanao to monitor the general ceasefire between the MILF and the government.

However, reports said more JI members managed to slip into the country – something the terrorists could not easily do without established contacts in Mindanao.

Ties between the MILF and the al-Qaeda-linked JI were first reported in 2002 by American broadcaster Cable News Network (CNN), which based its report on intelligence documents it had obtained.

CNN reported that Saudi terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden asked MILF leader Hashim Salamat in the early 1990s to set up JI training camps in the Philippines.

By 1998, the MILF had at least one training camp for al-Qaeda fighters inside Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao province in Mindanao, CNN said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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