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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Philippines rebel leader dead
The late Salamat Hashim, left, with his successor Murad Ebrahim, right
Salamat Hashim, left, founded the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
The Philippines Government and the country's main Muslim separatist group say planned peace talks will still go ahead despite the death of the group's leader, Salamat Hashim.

Mr Salamat - head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) - died of a heart attack more than two weeks ago, but news of his death was held back to allow a smooth transition of power, according to a group spokesman.

MILF military chief Murad Ebrahim has been appointed to take over from Mr Salamat.

The group's political affairs chief, Ghazali Jaafar, said the new leadership would still attend the forthcoming peace talks in Malaysia.

"The MILF remains committed to the peaceful settlement of the problem through negotiations," he said.

The MILF has been waging a rebellion to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines for the past 25 years.

Throughout that time, efforts to reach a settlement have come to nothing.

Government soldiers at a village allegedly burnt by MILF rebels
It is unclear how the death will affect peace negotiations
But recently, there had been fresh hopes for peace.

Just before his death, Mr Salamat issued a landmark statement renouncing terrorism and underlining the MILF's commitment to achieving a peace settlement.

This was seen as a significant shift by the elusive leader, as his renunciation of terrorism was one of the key demands made by the government as a condition for resuming negotiations.

The government has consistently accused the MILF of harbouring activists from the shadowy extremist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) - which is said to have links to al-Qaeda.

Manila has also accused the MILF of being behind a series of bomb blasts in the southern island of Mindanao.

Analysts warn that the organisation may return to its radical ways if the Philippine Government fails to strike a swift peace deal with the group.

But even if the Malaysia talks go ahead and a peace deal is reached, Mr Salamat's death may yet complicate matters.

The government must be worried about the ability of the MILF's new leadership to enforce an agreement with the same kind of authority that Mr Salamat exercised, according to the BBC correspondent in Manila, John McLean.

Mr Salamat founded the MILF, and the fortunes of the Front and its late leader were closely intertwined, our correspondent says.

The BBC's John McLean reports from Manila
"It appears the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are continuing with preparations for peace talks"

Manila signs ceasefire with MILF
18 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
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17 Mar 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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