01/24/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Jailed Jolo Muslim rebel leader to be set free

Moro National Liberation Front leader Nur Misuari will be freed on health grounds. Rebel leader throws his support behind Filipino President Arroyo and is in favour of US troop presence in Jolo.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Jailed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari will be released soon, following his public declaration of support for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and for the entry of American soldiers into his troubled home territory in the south.

Misuari has been held in isolation in a heavily guarded detention centre outside Manila since 2002. He was charged with rebellion after allegedly ordering a failed uprising in the southern Philippines in November 2001, which left at least 59 dead and 85 wounded.

The MNLF has been fighting for the independence of Mindanao Island. In 1976 it signed a peace agreement with the government (the Tripoli Agreement), but a few members, unsatisfied by the outcome of the negotiations and convinced that their leaders had betrayed the cause, split and set up the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the administration was waiting for the court to resolve a motion for Misuari's release on medical and humanitarian grounds.

Misuari has a slight heart ailment and suffers from elevated blood pressure, he said.

Asked if they would try to block his release, he replied: "No, we will welcome whatever the order of the court will be."

The unexpected decision to release him comes after Misuari was suddenly allowed a day leave from jail to join the celebration of a Muslim holiday.

He went on nationwide TV to declare his full support of Mrs Arroyo "for as long as she is the president". He also said he supported joint training exercises by American and Philippine troops in the heart of his home province, Jolo.

He even wrote a letter to his 600 armed followers in Jolo, telling them "to stay put in their camps to avoid untoward incidents" during the war games.

"I hereby issue this directive to all MNLF leaders to maintain peace and security in the island of Sulu for the entire duration of Balikatan Humanitarian Programme to be conducted in the said Bangsamoro Island from February 6 to March 6, 2006," he told them.

"The Balikatan (joint exercises) will be non-military in character as it will focus mainly on the conduct of medical and engineering civic actions for the benefit of our people," he added.

The order was hand-delivered by Brigadier General Mohammad Ben Dolorfino, who has been involved in military operations in the south for some time. The general said that Misuari's men are convinced that the message is genuine and they will abide by it.

The general expressed satisfaction for the truce. But Zamboanga City mayor Celso Lobregat did not share the same view. "The firearms are still with them. They can still be considered a threat," he said.

He noted that in the latest military briefing he attended last year, Misuari's group was still identified as a threat. "And what about justice?" the mayor added.

Misuari is under trial for allegedly ordering his men to carry out attacks, during which they held hostage residents of Zamboanga.

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