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Muslim guerrillas in Philippines halt search for kidnapped Italian priest

ICC Note: MILF forces says they need a new deal from the Pilippine government before they will continue to search for kidnapped priest, Fr. Bossi.

By Jim Gomez

7/3/07 Philippines (AP) – Hundreds of Muslim guerrillas have pulled out of a search for a kidnapped Italian priest in a mountainous southern region of the Philippines after an accord allowing them to operate with government troops expired, the rebels said Tuesday…

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said the withdrawal was a major setback to efforts to locate Bossi…

Both sides had hoped to renew the accord at the end of last month, but the government’s chief negotiator resigned and his replacement has not yet had a chance to meet formally with the guerrillas…

MILF commanders had deployed their forces to search for Bossi shortly after the abduction, focusing on the rugged Lanao boundary, where the priest was reportedly seen by Muslim villagers sympathetic to the rebels. Government troops later joined in the search.

Marine Maj. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, who is helping monitor search efforts, said both sides were eager to resume their cooperation. “It’s just a matter of renewing their legal mandate, there is continuing goodwill,” he said.

The 2004 accord, which allows the rebels to work with troops in apprehending outlaws, was one of several byproducts of yearslong peace talks brokered by Malaysia to settle the bloody fight for Muslim self-rule in the southern Philippines .

Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said Monday there were strong indications that Bossi is alive and being held in an unspecified area…

Nasif said Bossi was being held by gunmen seeking a ransom, citing rebel intelligence.

“The abductors will take care of him because they want money out of this,” Nasif told The Associated Press. “This has nothing to do with religion; it’s a kidnapping for ransom.”

(Full story)