Moro rebel commander arrested in Cotabato

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Monday, February 24, 2014

MANILA — Philippine police arrested a key commander of the main Moro rebel group that recently concluded a peace deal with the government, the national police chief said Monday in a move criticized by the insurgents.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima said police and marine forces arrested Wahid Tundok, a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) wanted for multiple murder and other charges, on Sunday at a checkpoint in southern Cotabato City. Tundok and several of his armed followers were taken to a local military headquarters for questioning.

Rebel deputy leader Ghadzali Jaafar said immunity guarantees under a cease-fire agreement cover Tundok and that talks were underway with the government to free the men.

The ceasefire, he said, should remain in place and Tundok's arrest should not affect the gains made in the peace talks.

Tundok once belonged to a rebel unit whose leader broke off from the MILF with hundreds of insurgents because of their opposition to peace talks. Tundok stayed with the main group and has helped army troops battle the breakaway, hardline insurgents, according to the main rebel group.

The government and the rebels last month completed all four key agreements that would comprise a peace pact, which calls for the 11,000-strong guerrilla force to be deactivated. Under the deal, the government will grant amnesty to Moro rebels facing or convicted of rebellion-related charges.

Presidential peace talks adviser Teresita Deles said Tundok and other rebel commanders could be considered for amnesty but details and requirements for rebels to be granted amnesty have not been finalized.

The conclusion of the Malaysian-brokered talks has been the most significant progress made over 13 years of negotiations to tame an insurgency that has left more than 120,000 people dead and derailed development in Moro-populated southern regions that are among the most destitute in the Philippines.

Under the deal, the Moro insurgents agreed to end violence in exchange for broader autonomy. An existing five-province Muslim autonomous region is to be replaced by a more powerful, better-funded and potentially larger region to be called Bangsamoro. (AP)

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