MANILA, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday that a leader of a separatist Muslim group has agreed to talk peace with the government again.
Duterte broke the news during a news conference after meeting with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Musuari at the Malacanang presidential palace.
"It is with great happiness that I announce to the nation that Chairman Nur Misuari, our brother who heads the MNLF, has finally decided to just accept my invitation for him to talk to us," Duterte said.
He added that Misuari, 77, has obliged to travel from the remote Sulu province to meet with him at the palace.
"There is the pending warrant which is lifted now upon my orders so that we can talk," Duterte said, assuring Misuari that "there was never any intention to deprive you of your liberty."
Misuari vowed to help Duterte in pursuing peace especially in Mindanao region, home of many Filipino Muslims.
"I cannot reject his invitation because I respect him too much," Misuari said, adding he came to the palace to personally thank Duterte for "restoring my freedom if only partially."
Misuari had been in hiding since 2013 for allegedly plotting the attack in Zamboanga City. In August 2013, Misuari threatened to declare independence for several regions in western Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.
In September that year, the Misuari-led insurgents clashed with government troops in the city and nearby villages and took nearly 300 people hostage in the process.
In subsequent battles which lasted about a month, more than 100 people reportedly were killed, including 71 Misuari fighters, civilians and police men.
Over 120,000 residents were displaced as a result of the fighting that left many houses and mosques burned to the ground.
The MNLF signed a peace treaty with government in 1996, which created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, consisting of four provinces with limited autonomy. However, Misuari criticized the government for reneging on its promise for an autonomy.
The Duterte administration is trying to talk peace not only with Misuari's MNLF but also with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a larger Muslim rebel group that broke out from Misuari's group in the 1980s. It is also negotiating peace with the communist rebels.
An estimated 120,000 to 150,000 people have been killed in the wars between the government troops and the Muslim separatist rebels since the late 1960s, according to government records.
The fighting also displaced millions of Filipinos in the southern Philippines and stagnated development in that region.