Manila seeks to resume talks with Muslim rebels


Cotabato City (Philippines) : The Philippine government hopes to resume stalled peace talks with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group with a new proposal to resolve a contentious issue about a proposed Muslim homeland, a senior official said Wednesday.

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Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved Tuesday the new proposal that would be presented to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

“This only shows that the government is sincere in negotiating with them,” he said but declined to give details about the proposal.

Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag Dec 15 when the guerrillas rejected a draft agreement on territories to be covered by the proposed Muslim homeland in the southern region of Mindanao.

The MILF demanded the immediate inclusion of more than 1,000 villages, but the government said the territory in the homeland must be subject to such “constitutional processes” as approval by Congress and a referendum.

The proposed homeland would expand an existing Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao, home to the country’s Muslim minority, which currently covers five predominantly Muslim provinces and the Islamic city of Marawi.

Earlier in the week, tens of thousands of heavily armed MILF guerrillas gathered in the town of Butig in Lanao del Sur province, 840 km south of Manila, to discuss the prospects of the peace talks.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao since 1978. In the past, it has claimed that all of Mindanao is the ancestral domain of the country’s Muslims and should be governed separately from the rest of the Philippines.