ZAMBOANGA CITY, PHILIPPINES — A tentative peace deal that came close to resolving decades of conflict between the Philippine military and Muslim insurgents collapsed Thursday after days of fierce fighting and an alleged massacre.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government said it had canceled a landmark agreement reached recently with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Islamist rebel group.
“The cancellation of the memorandum of agreement is a painful step in our collective effort to come to an agreement with the MILF,” said a statement from Lorelei Fajardo, an Arroyo spokesman.
The rebels quickly insisted that the agreement was a “done deal.”
The deal was designed to provide an expanded autonomous homeland for about 4 million Muslims in the southern Philippines.
The Philippine Supreme Court on Aug. 4 issued a temporary restraining order against the formal signing of the accord after politicians and lawmakers filed a petition to block the deal.
More fighting quickly followed as rebels seized several Christian villages in an area slated to become part of the expanded homeland.
The rebels withdrew, only to launch a new assault, which authorities said led to the massacre Monday of dozens of civilians, as well as looting and burning.
Arroyo’s government, which has been negotiating with the MILF since 2001 to end almost four decades of fighting, “will seek a new agreement within the boundaries of law set within the constitution,” Fajardo said. “Furthermore, the president will not allow adventurism by MILF forces to pressure the government to sign any agreement, even if it is for peace.”
Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, rejected the president’s announcement that she was scrapping the agreement. Iqbal said the guerrillas would not renegotiate the accord….