Manila to insist on disarmament in peace deal review

 
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MANILA, Feb 5 (Reuters) The Philippines will insist Muslim separatists must disarm in a proposed review of a peace agreement with Islamic separatists in Jeddah next month, the president's peace adviser said today.

Jesus Dureza, a former lawmaker, said Manila would propose to amend the 1996 peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to avoid future mistaken encounters between soldiers and Moro rebels in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.

Formed in March 1968, the MNLF fought a violent and bloody Muslim separatist war that cost about 120,000 lives and displaced nearly 2 million people in the south until it signed a peace deal in September 1996.

A month after signing the deal, Nur Misuari, founder and leader of the MNLF, was elected governor of an autonomous area for Muslims in the south. The rebels were allowed to keep their weapons in their recognised bases.

''There's no disarmament provision in the 1996 peace agreement,'' Dureza, a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, told reporters a day after a general and 20 others were held for two nights in an MNLF camp on the southern island of Jolo.

''But, we will look into these things when we sit down next month. We will try to set the parameters and determine which issues should need a thorough review in the agenda.'' ''GOODWILL MONEY'' The MNLF freed Major-General Benjamin Dolorfino, Manila's military commander, after the government gave 450,000 pesos (,200) as ''goodwill money'' and sacks of rice and sardines to the families of nine MNLF members and civilians killed in an encounter last month.

The MNLF said the military had wrongly identified the dead as members of Abu Sayyaf, the Philippines most deadly Muslim rebel group, which Manila has vowed to crush.

The MNLF also wanted assurances that a meeting about the 1996 peace deal would be held in Saudi Arabia.

Disillusionment with the way the 1996 peace deal was implemented has encouraged some MNLF members to defect to other groups such as the Abu Sayyaf.

The Philippines was negotiating a separate peace deal with the largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, but talks have stalled since May 2006 over the size and wealth of a proposed ancestral homeland for 3 million Muslims in the south.

Dureza said the incident at the weekend has ''eroded the level of confidence'' between the two sides, adding ''there's going to be a lot of work to bring it back again''.

REUTERS AKJ ND1342

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