Philippines rebels in peace talks

Philippine government officials and Muslim rebels have resumed peace talks aimed at ending a decades-long rebellion in the south of the country which has escalated in recent weeks.

Three representatives of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and four government negotiators have gathered in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur for the two-day meeting.

"The fighting in some areas has disrupted somehow the negotiations. So we have to put them back on track again," Jesus Dureza, who is leading the government peace panel, told reporters before the talks began.

A ceasefire signed in 2001 has been tested by continuing sporadic violence, but hostilities have intensified since February, when government troops overran an MILF stronghold near Pikit, on Mindanao island.

The latest violence came on Wednesday, when at least 10 people were killed - five rebels and five civilians - as the MILF attacked the predominantly Christian town of M'Lang. Soldiers and rebels were later engaged in a gun battle.

Mr Dureza said he did not expect the talks to produce instant results.

"We are addressing rebellion in Mindanao that is three generations old," he said. "And we don't have the magic formula to do that."

The 12,500-strong MILF has fought a 25-year campaign for an Islamic state in the southern third of the largely Christian Philippines.

"We have to continue engaging them, taking one step at a time and moving forward," Mr Dureza added.

The government negotiator said the "exploratory" talks would aim to map out a peace process.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu also cautioned on Wednesday against hopes for an early peace, the French news agency AFP reported.

Mr Kabalu said that he expected both sides to discuss issues related to the implementation of the 2001 ceasefire agreement.

27/03/2003

Bron : BBC World News

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