Jeddah meeting not affected by operations vs. Malik — Dureza

Hostilities between government troops and Moro rebels in Sulu flared up when Commander Habier Malik allegedly mortared a Marine camp in Panamao on April 13.

But Sec. Jesus Dureza said the tripartite meeting will go on as scheduled in July, not now as suggested by the Mindanao Peace Weavers, coalition of various peace groups in the island, in the midst of new hostilities in Sulu.

Dureza said the Jeddah meeting is totally different from the pursuit against Malik, which he said is a "punitive action" against the MNLF commander.

He said troops are going after Malik for bombing a Marine camp in Panamao.

Dureza said there will be no negotiation on Malik's case. "When he committed a criminal act, automatically he puts himself out from the tenets of peace," he said.

Dureza said he cannot understand why Malik and other parties keep on connecting their acts to the tripartite meeting.

He assured that the July meeting will push through. He said he met with Misuari this week to initiate preparations for the meeting.

Dureza said they wanted to thresh out preliminary agreements prior to the meeting to smoothen the process. "By the time we meet, we already have (prior agreements)," he said.

Malik, leader of the MNLF Jabal Uhod Command, declared jihad or holy war against the government reportedly in retaliation for the military attack on MNLF forces.

At least 21 rebels and Marines have been reportedly killed in the fighting, which triggered evacuations of 50,000 residents, based on Mindanao Peace Weavers estimates.

MPW welcomed the OIC's earlier call for an immediate ceasefire between the military and the MNLF.

But Dureza told reporters in a press conference today they could not accede to a ceasefire because it entails a short term implication, noting that hostilities could erupt anew later. He said, though, that he will push for the total halt of hostilities in Sulu.

Dureza said Armed Forces chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon ordered today Task Force Comet chief Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael for a "deceleration" or downscaling of military operations in Sulu to allow distribution of relief goods and services. He said the evacuees total 10,000 families.