Philippine officials, Muslim rebels leave for Malaysia for talks


Manila : Philippine and Muslim rebel peace negotiators left for Malaysia Tuesday for crucial talks that could result in the resolution of a contentious issue stalling their negotiations, a senior government official said.

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Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, said the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were to finalise discussions on ancestral domain in a meeting Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur. The issue refers to a proposed Muslim homeland in the strife-torn region of Mindanao.

“The issue on territory is the most difficult issue,” he said. “As you know we had an impasse on the issue of ancestral domain. Once the ancestral domain issue is settled, then we can move forward.”

The peace talks have been stalled since September 2006 after the two sides failed to agree on the geographical and financial scope of the proposed Muslim homeland, which expands an existing autonomous region in Mindanao.

The MILF had wanted to add more than 1,000 villages to the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, but the government had said it could only agree to the inclusion of about 600 villages.

The existing region covers five predominantly Muslim provinces and the Islamic city of Marawi.

The MILF has been fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao since 1978. In the past, it claimed that all of Mindanao is the ancestral domain of the country’s Muslim minority and should be governed separately from the rest of the Philippines.