A southern Philippines bishop has urged the government to immediately resume peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front amid reports the rebel group is gearing up for war. "It is urgent that both sides sit down and start negotiations," said Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo of Cotabato in Mindanao province Aug. 12. Bishop Bagaforo spoke a day after the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported a threat by Ebrahim Murad, chairman of the Islamic rebels, to launch a war if peace talks with the government did not resume, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Bishop Bagaforo warned that the statement attributed to Murad could trigger Christians in potential conflict areas in the South to arm themselves. The 15,000-strong rebel front, which has been fighting since the 1970s for Islamic rule in claimed territories, has engaged in on and off peace negotiations since 1997. President Benigno Aquino III has appointed a new chief negotiator with the Islamic front who said talks will resume after Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, ends Sept. 9. Newspaper reports this week, however, quoted Murad as saying his group had "amassed an arsenal with help from military gunrunners." However, Mohagher Iqbal, the Islamic front's chief negotiator, dismissed the reports, saying it was "ill-timed" for Ramadan. "It creates an impression that the MILF is bloodthirsty even during Ramadan," Iqbal said, calling the newspaper not to "exaggerate what otherwise are straight facts from a particular event." Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the government is receiving only "positive information from [the MILF] that they are also eager to pursue the peace process."