The largest Muslim group in the Philippines will not turn its back on a peace process with the government, its leader said on Tuesday, after a three-day meeting of thousands of its members.
Al Haj Ebrahim Murad, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said the group would abide by the peace process despite doubts raised by a number of field commanders on the government's sincerity.
Murad, who led the meeting in the interior of the southern region of Mindanao, said delays in peace talks, particularly on a deal on the setting up of an ancestral homeland for 3 million Muslims in the south, was causing anxiety in the MILF.
The government appeared distracted by allegations of corruption that have been levelled against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he said.
"What's happening in Manila is everybody's concern," Murad told reporters before he addressed a crowd of 10,000 armed men and civilian supporters at the Camp Palestine base near Butig town.
His speech, delivered in his native Maguindanaoan dialect, was interrupted several times by shouts of "Allahu Akbar" (God is great).
"Although the MILF consider the political crisis in Manila as an internal problem of the government, we're equally concerned on the potential impact on the peace process. It could distract the government and further delay the talks."
The peace talks, brokered by the Malaysian government, stalled in December 2007 when the MILF accused the government of changing a number of consensus points in a proposed agreement on Muslim homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic state.
Last Mod: 11 Mart 2008, 18:23
The Muslims questioned the sincerity of the Manila government in resolving the nearly 40 years of battle.
"The MILF is solid as ever," he said, adding the organisation has grown into 20 divisions of 7,000 to 10,000 fighters each with tens of thousands in Muslim communities forming its mass base.
Murad ended the meeting vowing to continue with the peace process.
"It's the only pragmatic and the best way to resolve the conflict," he said.