MANILA (Reuters) - Malaysian-led peace monitors have found that both the Philippine police and Muslim rebels were at fault for violating a ceasefire in a January clash in which 65 people were killed, the government’s chief negotiator said on Monday.
Forty-four police commandos, 17 rebels and four civilians were killed in the Jan. 25 clash that has put at risk a peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front after lawmakers suspended work on a law creating an autonomous area for Muslims.
The bungled police operation has also become President Benigno Aquino’s biggest political crisis with opinion polls showing sliding popularity ratings over his handling of the affair.
“Both sides appeared to have accountability,” government negotiator Miriam Ferrer told reporters a day after the 60-member International Monitoring Team (IMT) reported its findings on truce violations.
The government had said the clash was a mistake which occurred as police hunted for two wanted Islamist militants.
The rebels said they acted in self-defense when police entered their zone.
Both the police and guerrilla leaders had no immediate comment on the IMT report.
Malaysia has brokered peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF to end a 45-year conflict that has killed 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in one of the poor and resource-rich regions in the Philippines.
Aquino has called for the peace process to go ahead and has urged legislators to push on with the law granting Muslims autonomy in part of the south of the largely Christian country.
“The peace deal remains, it is still in effect despite the incident,” Ferrer said.
Ferrer said the monitors found that the police violated the truce when they fired the first shot and for not coordinating their mission with the rebels. Four sleeping rebels had been summarily executed, she said, citing the IMT report.
The rebels had violated the truce when they pursued the police and for endangering civilian lives, she said.
Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Robert Birsel