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Duterte aborted plans to make a deal with militants

This article is more than 12 months old

MARAWI CITY Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was preparing to make a deal with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-inspired militants in the days after they laid siege to a southern city, but aborted the plan without explanation, an intermediary involved in the process said.

Mr Agakhan Sharief, a prominent Muslim leader, told Reuters that after Islamist fighters overran parts of Marawi City on May 23 and took hundreds of people hostage, he was approached by a senior Duterte aide to use his connections with the Maute militant group's leaders to start back-channel talks.

Two other Marawi sources familiar with the matter confirmed the president had worked behind the scenes to hold talks with the Maute brothers, Omarkhayam and Abdullah.

But the process was halted when Mr Duterte in a May 31 speech declared he "will not talk to terrorists".

It was not immediately clear what prompted his about-face.

"The problem with our president, his mind is changing always," said Mr Sharief, a cleric who has had roles in various peace agreements in Mindanao.

"He announced he will no longer talk to terrorists and that made our negotiations cut."

Mr Duterte's top peace adviser and his spokesman did not respond to separate requests for comment.

Marawi Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra confirmed that back-channel talks did start but said he was not privy to details.

He told Reuters the process failed because the rebels did not show good faith or reduce the intensity of attacks on government forces after Mr Duterte offered them an olive branch.

"There was a window of opportunity," he said. "But there was no show of sincerity." - REUTERS