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Monday, 8 August 2011

Philippine leader gave new hope for peace: rebels

MANILA — Philippine President Benigno Aquino's secret meeting with the head of the country's main Muslim rebel group revived hopes for peace in the troubled south, an insurgent official said Sunday.

Aquino's meeting with Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Tokyo on Thursday changed the minds of rebel leaders who had become sceptical of the talks, said MILF vice-chairman Ghadzali Jaafar.

"There were members of the central committee who were doubtful about the sincerity and seriousness of the Aquino administration before the meeting," Jaafar told reporters in a telephone interview.

"But these talks were like an injection that gave new hope to the leaders for the peace talks," Jaafar said.

However Jaafar warned the political opposition might find a reason to oppose a settlement before Aquino's term ends in 2016.

The head of opposition legislators on Sunday questioned the secrecy of Aquino's surprise meeting with Murad.

"Secrets may be maintained between lovers, but there should be no secrets between the president and the Filipino people," House minority leader Edcel Lagman said in a statement.

He said Aquino should say why the meeting was kept a secret and reveal the "bottom line demands" of the MILF.

Other political figures have also expressed concern over Aquino's meeting with the leader of the MILF whose three-decade long rebellion has killed more than 150,000 people.

The 12,000-strong MILF had initially aimed for an independent Muslim state in the mostly Catholic country's southern island of Mindanao, but is now focused on autonomy.



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