Manila, Muslim rebels meet on peace deal

The Moro Islamic Liberation Force started its rebellion for an independent Islamic state in 1978.

Kuala Lumpur: Philippine government and Muslim separatist negotiators met on Monday in Malaysia as part of efforts to draft a peace agreement to end a decades-old insurgency in the southern Philippines.

A Malaysian official at a hotel in the capital Kuala Lumpur, where the two-day meeting between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Force (MILF) is being held, confirmed it had begun but could not give further details.

The MILF started its rebellion for an independent Islamic state in the mineral-rich region of Mindanao in 1978 and more than 150,000 people have since been killed.

In 2003, a truce was signed to pave the way for peace talks, but the process broke down. Negotiations to end the 33-year insurgency restarted in February, brokered by Malaysia.

At a session in April, the MILF put forward a draft agreement and the Philippine government is now expected to submit a counter-proposal.

Government negotiators would not divulge the document`s contents but a senior member of Manila`s peace panel said ahead of the meeting that it could bring both sides closer to ending the insurgency.

"We aim to close the gap between what happens on the table and the actual implementation," the official said. "We will submit a counter proposal to them."

The official said the Philippine negotiating panel would also express their appreciation to the MILF for helping police rescue a Filipina businesswoman seized by a kidnap-for-ransom gang in May.

"It provided some sort of confidence, but a lot still has to be done," the official said.

The woman was seized by five armed men from her home on May 14 in the southern province of Maguindanao and taken to a marshland under the control of the MILF.

The guerrillas recovered the hostage after pursuing the kidnappers, forcing them to leave her behind.

Bureau Report

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