Philippine rebel leader arrested

Detention of Wahid Tundok could spell trouble for a peace agreement between the government and main rebel group

Muslim rebels in a village they control on the southern island Mindanao in the Philippines, amid serious peace talks with Manila to try to end the longstanding conflict.
Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images

Philippine police arrested a Wahid Tundok, a key commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main Muslim rebel group, which recently concluded a peace deal with the government, National Police Director General Alan Purisima said Monday.

Purisima said police and marine forces arrested Tundok, wanted for murder and other charges, on Sunday at a checkpoint in southern city of Cotabato. Tundok and several of his armed followers were taken to a local military headquarters for questioning.

Police authorities said Tundok had outstanding warrants of arrest for various criminal offenses, including arson. Members of the group, including its deputy leader, Ghadzali Jaafar, said Tundok had been helping out in the peace process and was supposed to be covered by an immunity guarantee from the government. The cease-fire, Jaafar 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 Moro Islamic Liberation Front because of its opposition to peace talks. Tundok stayed with the main group and has helped army troops battle the breakaway, composed of hard-line insurgents, according to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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

Presidential peace talks adviser Teresita Deles said that Tundok and other rebel commanders could be considered for amnesty but that 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 Muslim-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.

Apart from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, many other armed groups operate in the south, including former rebels who have resorted to crime. The conflict has left parts of the southern Philippines mired in deep poverty and instability.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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