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Philippine rebels claim to hold senior officials hostage

A commander denies the report from Muslim group in the south.

February 03, 2007|Al Jacinto | Special to The Times

ZAMBOANGA CITY, PHILIPPINES — Disgruntled Muslim rebels who signed a peace agreement with Manila in 1996 have taken senior military and defense officials hostage on Jolo island, about 600 miles south of the capital, rebel sources said early today.

Among those being held by members of the Moro National Liberation Front are Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino of the Philippine marines, Defense Undersecretary Ramon Santos, several army colonels, and a number of soldiers and staff members of presidential peace advisor Jesus Dureza, rebel sources said.

They were being held at a jungle base in Bitan-ag village near Panamao town, a stronghold of the MNLF on Jolo. Sources said the government was trying to negotiate the release of the hostages, who reportedly are being held by hundreds of rebels led by Habier Malik and Khaid Ajibun.

Dolorfino's group flew to Jolo on Friday morning for a meeting with MNLF leaders and were taken captive later in the day, sources said.

Southern Philippines military commander Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo denied the report, but Dureza confirmed that Dolorfino's group had flown to the island and was in Bitan-ag.

Nur Misuari, chieftain of the MNLF, signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996, ending more than 20 years of fighting in the southern Philippines. Misuari became the governor of five southern Muslim provinces granted autonomy by the government.

In 2006, more than 1,400 disgruntled MNLF members threatened to abandon the peace deal, accusing the government of reneging on parts of it.

Many former rebels contend the government failed to comply with some of the accord's provisions and improve their standard of living. They accused the government of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the south, which remain mired in poverty, heavily militarized and financially dependent on Manila.

Some of the former rebels have joined either the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, now the country's largest separatist rebel group, or the smaller Abu Sayyaf.

The reported hostage-taking comes amid renewed attacks by the MILF. Those rebels are in peace talks with the government, but despite a truce signed in 2001, sporadic clashes continue in many areas.

On Friday, Philippine authorities blamed the militants for killing three people, including a soldier kidnapped in the south.

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