MANILA, Philippines–A commander of the main Muslim rebel group that recently signed a peace deal with the government has been arrested, the Philippine national police chief said Monday in a move criticized by the rebels.
Director-General Alan Purisima said police and marine forces arrested Wahid Tundok, a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front wanted for multiple murder and other charges, on Sunday at a checkpoint in southern Cotabato city. Tundok and several of his armed followers were taken to a local military headquarters for questioning.
Another rebel leader, Ghadzali Jaafar, said immunity guarantees under the ceasefire agreement cover Tundok, and that talks were underway with the government to free the men.
He said the cease-fire mechanism should remain in place and that Tundok’s arrest should not affect the gains made in the peace talks.
The government and the rebels signed a peace pact last month which calls for the 11,000-strong guerrilla force to be deactivated. Under the deal, the government will grant amnesty to Muslim rebels facing or have been convicted of rebellion-related charges.
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.