Philippines says talks with Muslim rebels may resume by year end
Peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim separatist rebels could resume before Christmas after being stalled for months due to fighting in the country's troubled south, an official said Tuesday, reported dpa.
Presidential peace adviser Hermogenes Esperon said he was confident that the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would resume soon after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appointed a new head of the government peace panel.
Arroyo named Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis as the new chief government negotiator with the MILF on Monday. Top aides said she would appoint the other four members of the government peace panel by the middle of the month.
"The appointment (of Seguis) is a strong indication that the government is more than willing to re-start the peace talks with the MILF as soon as possible," Esperon said in a statement.
"We can look forward to the resumption of the peace talks before Christmas, which I believe is the best Christmas gift to the Filipino people, especially of (the southern region of) Mindanao," he added.
On September 3, Arroyo dissolved the government panel negotiating with the MILF after the guerrillas launched a series of deadly attacks on dozens of villages in Mindanao, triggering fierce fighting with the military.
More than 200 people, including civilians, were killed in the rebel attacks and subsequent clashes between guerrillas and soldiers. More than 500,000 people were also displaced at the height of the hostilities.
The MILF launched the attacks after the Supreme Court blocked the signing of a territorial agreement that would have expanded an existing autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao, following allegations the deal would violate the constitution.
Arroyo has since scrapped the deal, and the high tribunal has declared it unconstitutional.
Esperon reiterated the government's determination to reach a peace agreement with the MILF, the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao since 1978.
"We cannot afford to abandon peace because war is not the solution to the long-drawn Mindanao conflict," he said. "There is no alternative to peace. We cannot give up on peace. We will continue our efforts to find a genuine and lasting solution to our security problem in the southern Philippines."