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MILF rebels protest member's arrest

MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Philippine Muslim rebels said today the arrest of one of its senior members in connection with bomb attacks violated a ceasefire agreement ahead of a planned resumption of talks with the government.

Eduard Guerra of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has been fighting for self-rule for minority Muslims in the southern Philippines, was arrested Sept. 22 at an airport in southern Davao city while en route to an international human rights conference in Geneva, the rebels said in a statement on their website, Luwaran.com.

The group called for his release and criminal charges against him to be dropped, saying his arrest violated security guarantees for rebels involved in peace negotiations.

Rebel spokesman Von al Haq said Guerra, who officials say uses the alias Abraham Yap Alonto, faces multiple murder and arson charges in connection with bombings and attacks last year in southern Sarangani province.

Marvic Leonen, the chief government negotiator, said Guerra was arrested on the basis of a court warrant issued Sept. 1. He did not offer details.

Leonen denied that the government violated its agreements with the rebels and said that unless a suspect was directly involved in negotiations he could not be exempted from prosecution and arrest.

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Guerra's name was never submitted as a direct negotiator, Leonen said in a statement.

He said he was awaiting word from Malaysia, the facilitator in the long-running peace negotiations, on when talks can resume so issues including Guerra's arrest can be discussed.

"We remain committed to the peace process and steadfast in our desire to see it succeed in Mindanao," Leonen said, referring to the violence-wracked southern Philippine region.

Talks with the 11,000-strong rebel group collapsed in 2008 after the Supreme Court rejected a preliminary accord that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous region.

The rebels announced last month that they will no longer demand independence and instead seek a status similar to a US state - a statement welcomed by the government.

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