Kuala Lumpur: The Philippines on Monday warned that negotiations with Muslim rebels to end a decades-old insurgency in the troubled south are approaching a "stalemate”.
The government in February said it aimed to sign a peace deal this year with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which seeks an autonomous Muslim state in the nation's south, and put it to a referendum the following year.
But Marvic Leonen, chief government negotiator who had expressed hope a pact would be formulated within the first quarter of 2012, said both parties must make "difficult decisions" if a peace deal is to remain on track.
"We are approaching what would seem to be a stalemate in our ideas for transition as well as in our ideas of how to make permanent the solutions that work for our peoples," he said in a statement.
"Perhaps, we can both keep an open mind, we could convince ourselves that there are goals more appropriate rather than sticking to our encrusted positions," he added.
Leonen made the remarks as the Philippines and MILF negotiators began a three-day meeting in the capital Kuala Lumpur in another bid to advance the 15-year peace negotiations.
While Leonen did not specifically point out the exact reasons for the possible stalemate, it is generally acknowledged that both sides had not gone beyond the key issues of how the proposed "genuine autonomy" would work.
In particular, this involves power-sharing, division of wealth, its scope and what role the MILF would play in the transition government.
"The government has been optimistic, but the MILF has always said there are issues that need to be addressed – all these things like power sharing, how to share revenues from mineral resources, and what role the MILF can actively play in the transition," said Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
Meanwhile, MILF spokesman Von al Haq said that both parties have put offers on the table, but those have not been reconciled.
"We need to talk about these very substantive issues. Let us not impose our will -- even if one side wants it signed tomorrow for instance, but the other side has issues about the offer, then that will simply not work," he said.
The 12,000-strong MILF has waged a rebellion since the 1970s, and the conflict has claimed up to 150,000 lives. Peace talks have been going on for about a decade, but have been frequently bogged down by deadly clashes with both sides accusing each other of violating a ceasefire. (AFP)
First Published: Monday, March 19, 2012, 16:15