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Moslem Rebels Threaten To Break Off Peace Talks

March 25, 1987

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Moslem rebels today threatened to break off peace talks and resume fighting if President Corazon Aquino does not grant them autonomy on Mindanao island before the May congressional elections.

The military, meanwhile, rejected an offer by Communist rebels on Mindanao for a limited cease-fire, and a suspect in the bombing at the Philippines Military Academy said he was innocent. The blast killed four people.

The threat by the Moro National Liberation Front, largest of three Islamic groups, raised the possibility the government will have to fight a two-front war against Communist and Moslem insurgents.

Mrs. Aquino vowed Sunday to crush leftist and rightist extremists and called on the military to give her ″a string of honorable victories.″

But Defense Secretary Rafael Ileto told reporters today the military was holding off on an all-out offensive against the Communists so as not to disrupt the May 11 congressional elections.

Moslem rebels and government representatives met Tuesday for what was to have been a four-day session, the second since formal talks began March 10.

But the talks were recessed until April 9 at the rebels’ request after government negotiators said they no new written respons to demands that Mrs. Aquino decree an autonomous Moslem region on Mindanao before the elections.

The rebels want Mrs. Aquino to act before the elections because they say there is no guarantee the new Congress will actually grant them autonomy. Mrs. Aquino has special law-making powers until the new Congress convenes.

″We don’t trust Congress,″ Habib Hashim, the rebels’ chief negotiator, said in a radio interview.

If the talks fail, ″there is no other alternative but to go back to the jungles and continue the struggles for the liberation of our people,″ he said.

The chief government negotiator, Emmanuel Pelaez, said he remained confident the two sides could reach an agreement, but that it would have to be within the limits of the new constitution ratified last month.

The constitution endorses autonomy for ″Moslem Mindanao,″ which the government interprets as five provinces where Moslems form the majority. The charter empowers Congress to establish details of self-rule.

In December, the rebels had dropped their demand for a separate Moslem state during meetings with government representatives. An agreement reached at the time called for autonomy talks to be completed within 90 days. A rebel official said the deadline was May 9.

″The government seems to be taking back this olive branch of peace and treading in the dangerous path of new hostilities,″ the rebels said in a statement today.

More than 50,000 people have been killed in the 15-year-old Moslem rebellion which peaked in the mid-1970s.

Meanwhile, the military turned down an offer made Monday by Communist rebels for a truce in north-central Mindanao island during Easter Week and the May 11 elections.

″We cannot allow to maintain a low profile in our military operations,″ regional commander Brig. Gen. Mariano Adalem said. ″The time is right for us to go on an all-out offensive against Communist rebels.″

Also today, the state-run Philippines News Agency reported that Capt. Wilhelm Dormal, a suspect in the March 18 bombing of the Philippines Military Academy grandstand, denied any role in the blast which killed four people and injured more than 30.

Investigators said the bomb may have been intended for President Corazon Aquino. In a commencement speech at the academy Sunday, she conceded that her peace initiatives had failed and ordered the armed forces to crush both leftist rebels and rightist plotters.

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