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|Tuesday, August 07, 2001, updated at 14:47(GMT+8)|
Philippine MILF Rebels OK Cease-Fire DetailsPhilippine government negotiators and Muslim separatist rebels said Tuesday they had agreed on details of a cease-fire in the southern Philippines.
The agreement marks a major step toward ending decades of fighting in the southern Philippines. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front(MILF) and government negotiating teams confirmed to the press that they had agreed on crucial cease-fire details.
The pact came shortly after the arrival of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is in Malaysia on her first visit abroad as the Philippine head of state.
Arroyo's government still has another Muslim separatist foe ¡ª the extremist Abu Sayyaf, widely known for its kidnappings. The group is holding dozens of hostages, including three Americans. She has refused to negotiate with them.
An official in Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Mahathir and Arroyo would witness the formal signing of the pact Tuesday.
Murad Eibrahim, chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said the deal covered guidelines on implementing the cease-fire, mechanics on normalizing relations in war-ravaged Muslim regions, and security and immunity issues.
Jesus Dureza, the chief Philippine government negotiator, confirmed that the accord had been reached and said: ``We are happy. The talks have been sincere and fruitful.''
Muslims in the southern Philippines have been fighting for independence from the largely Roman Catholic country for decades. An estimated 120,000 people have been killed in the long rebellion, and tens of thousands displaced.
The Moro National Liberation Front ¡ª the largest separatist group ¡ª made peace with the government in 1996 in exchange for a degree of autonomy in Muslim regions.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which broke from the MNLF in 1978, continued to fight. Arroyo revived peace negotiations after taking office earlier this year and a general framework was agreed to in Libya in June. The talks in Malaysia have worked out the details of that accord.
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