Philippine Muslim rebel groups agree to reconcile

Other News Materials 14 December 2007 09:01 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - The Philippines' two main Muslim separatist groups have agreed to resolve differences and work together for peace and growth in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country, a rebel spokesman said on Friday.

Eid Kabalu , a spokesman for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said his group agreed on a cooperation plan with the rival Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after both sides held a five-hour meeting with the son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Manila.

Kabalu's group broke away from the MNLF after Libya brokered a ceasefire between Manila and Muslim rebels in 1976, convincing the separatists to abandon a plan to set up an independent state and accept limited autonomy.

The MNLF signed a peace deal with the government in 1996 while the MILF is likely to do so next year. However, the rivalry between the two Islamic groups is seen as a sticking point.

"It was a productive meeting," Kabalu said, adding the two groups promised to work out a "joint action plan" to end 40 years of conflict with government and spur economic activities in war-torn areas on the southern island of Mindanao.

"We promised to iron out whatever differences we had have in the past not later than September 2008 and come up with a single roadmap to develop Muslim communities in the south."

Leaders of the two rebel groups met Saiful al-Islam Gaddafi at a Manila hotel on Tuesday night.

Negotiators from the government and the MILF are meeting in Kuala Lumpur at the weekend to draft a text on an agreement and are hoping to sign a final deal by August 2008.

"We're not talking to merge our two forces together," Kabalu said, adding the two rebel groups would only work for a common goal to end four decades of fighting that has killed 120,000 people and stunted growth in the resource-rich south.

"We have no quarrel with the MILF," Muslimin Sema , one of the key leaders of the MNLF, told Reuters in an earlier interview.

"Perhaps, we can find ways to complement each other."