Philippines restarts talks with MILF
[Straits Times] THE Philippines is using mediation to restart peace talks with Muslim separatist guerrillas in the south, despite recent fighting, President Gloria Arroyo said Friday. Speaking at a ceremony marking the 111th anniversary of the declaration of Philippine independence from Spanish rule, Arroyo said the Malaysian government was working to reopen the talks that stalled in August after rebel commanders attacked Christian communities.

'We are awaiting advice from our third party facilitator, the government of Malaysia, on when peace talks will resume,' Arroyo said, adding that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Rajak had given 'assurances of his country's support to the peace process' with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf).

She said a government negotiator was in behind-the-scenes discussions with rebels over the agenda for any peace talks.

However chief Milf negotiator Mohagher Iqbal denied there had been direct contact.

'There's no direct back-channel negotiations. There's no feedback too with Malaysia regarding the talks,' he said.

'I'm not certain if there will be a resumption of talks under the Arroyo administration because the situation on the ground is fluid. Anything may happen,' he told AFP.

The 12,000-strong Milf has waged a long campaign for a separate state in the southern third of the largely-Christian Philippines.

Talks between the two sides began following a 2003 ceasefire, but were suspended last August after the country's Supreme Court blocked a deal that would have given the Milf control of a swathe of land.

In recent weeks, fighting has stepped up in the southern island of Mindanao with three Milf camps overrun and at least 30 rebels slain.
Posted by: Fred 2009-06-13