Philippines frees top Muslim rebel leader

February 27, 2014 - 5:42:38 am
MANILA:  The Philippine government has freed a top Muslim rebel whose recent arrest had threatened to jeopardise a peace deal to end one of Asia’s longest running insurgencies, both sides said yesterday.

Wahid Tundok and his armed bodyguards were detained at a government checkpoint near the southern city of Cotabato on Sunday ahead of a peace deal with the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) expected within weeks.

Government as well as Milf negotiators swiftly criticised the arrest of Tundok, described by the military as a “high-value target” facing criminal charges including arson. 

The rebels had suggested it could be a deal-breaker.

“He is now in good hands,” Milf chief for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar said yesterday but declined to give further details.  “We are happy at the development.”

Jaafar and other senior Milf leaders say Tundok is a ranking rebel commander covered by an immunity guarantee from the government. 

A rebel source close to the talks said Tundok had been turned over to an unnamed local Muslim official. The status of his guards was unknown.

Philippine government negotiators said in a statement yesterday that a lower court had rescinded its arrest warrant for Tundok.

Negotiations to free Tundok were spearheaded by a joint rebel-government committee monitoring the Milf ceasefire.       AFP