Muslim rebels protest Philippine arrests

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Muslim rebels in the Philippines said Wednesday they had protested at the arrests of four guerrillas, warning it could affect talks aimed at ending the decades-long insurgency

The arrests come amid diminishing confidence within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front over the government's sincerity in trying quickly to seal a deal to end the rebellion which has left an estimated 150,000 people dead since the 1970s.

MILF vice-chairman for political affairs, Ghadzali Jaafar, said some rebel leaders believed the arrests were a deliberate attempt to target the group despite a ceasefire.

"We filed this protest to send a message to the government that we are not happy with what is going on and we are very much concerned about the situation," he said.

He said four MILF fighters were arrested recently for alleged illegal possession of ammunition in separate incidents in the southern island of Mindanao, home of the country's Muslim minority.

Jaafar told AFP that under the ceasefire, MILF fighters are allowed to keep their firearms and ammunition.

He also complained that the resumption of formal talks had been put off for too long, adding that the government might be deliberately delaying the negotiations.

The head of the government peace panel, Miriam Coronel, said in a statement she had asked the police to issue a complete report on the cases.

The peace talks are aimed at creating an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million.

However the group, which has about 12,000 armed followers, has recently complained about the slow progress of the talks which have fallen behind schedule.

President Benigno Aquino hopes to have the autonomous region in place before his term ends in 2016.

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