Philippine Muslim rebels ready for peace talks

MILF says it was awaiting word from Malaysia on the exact date of the talks.

Manila: Muslim separatist rebels waging a decades-old insurgency in the southern Philippines on Monday said they were ready to return to peace talks with the government.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in a statement, said it had reactivated its team of negotiators and was only awaiting word from Malaysia on the exact date of the talks hosted by Kuala Lumpur.

"This means we are gearing up for the resumption of talks," chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said. "We have already submitted the names of our peace panel to Kuala Lumpur."

"We can only hope that the government is now really sincere in the negotiations," he said.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging an insurgency for more than three decades to carve out a separate Muslim state in the mostly Catholic country`s southern island of Mindanao.

The rebellion has killed more than 150,000 people and stunted economic growth in the mineral rich but impoverished southern region.

President Benigno Aquino has said peace talks with the MILF would resume after the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which ended last week. No specific date however has yet been set for the negotiations hosted by Malaysia.

Peace talks have been stalled since 2008 after two MILF commanders led large-scale attacks across the main southern island of Mindanao, killing hundreds and plunging the region into a humanitarian crisis.

The attacks were carried out in retaliation for a Supreme Court decision outlawing a deal offered by the government of then-president Gloria Arroyo giving the MILF control over large areas it claims as its "ancestral domain”.

Nearly 400 people were killed in the clashes, while more than 750,000 were displaced at the height of the conflict.