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Philippine Rebels Agree To Talks

May 29, 2000

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Muslim rebel negotiators planned to resume peace talks with the government on Tuesday despite continued attacks on their bases in the southern Philippines, a rebel spokesman said.

``Yes, we will show up. That’s our commitment,″ Eid Kabalu, spokesman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said Monday.

The MILF withdrew from peace negotiations last month after government troops attacked 700 rebels who were holding a highway near the rebels’ main camp and extorting money from motorists.

After several weeks of fierce fighting in which much of the road was cleared, the MILF withdrew its forces and said it would resume peace talks. However, government troops have continued to fight and plan to capture all MILF camps except for the headquarters, Camp Abubakar in Maguindanao province, officials said.

The MILF is the larger of two rebel groups fighting for an independent state for the Philippines’ Muslim minority.

The peace talks are to resume Tuesday in Cotabato City, 550 miles south of Manila.

``To the MILF, I ask them to take this last best chance at peace,″ President Joseph Estrada said Monday. ``Let us work together to bring peace and development to our Muslim communities.″

The government has rejected the MILF’s call for an independent Islamic state but will discuss economic development and greater autonomy for Camp Abubakar, where thousands of civilians live, officials have said.

Estrada has threatened an ``all-out war″ against the rebels if a peace agreement is not reached by June 30.

Kabalu said the talks could be finished by that deadline if the government ``gives the needed solution to solve this problem.″ He did not elaborate.

At least 113 government soldiers have been killed and more than 470 others wounded since January in fighting against Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines.

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