August 16, 2010 / 10:26 AM / 9 years ago

Philippines keen to restart talks with Muslim rebels

MANILA (Reuters) - The new Philippine government is optimistic of securing a lasting peace with Muslim separatists, and its chief negotiator said on Monday a review of the process was almost complete and talks could resume in the near future.

Members of the Philippine's largest Islamic rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) stand guard inside the guerrilla base during the central committee hearing in the southern island of Mindanao March 11, 2008. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/Files

Marvic Leonen also said he was not unduly concerned by reports the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was building up its strength in case of a breakdown in negotiations.

“The MILF is a military force, and of course it is understandable for them to say they are training their fighters,” he told foreign correspondents, adding the Philippine military was also modernising its equipment.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim guerrilla group, has been fighting for a separate homeland in southern Mindanao island for the past four decades. More than 120,000 people have died and 2 million displaced in the rebellion.

Philippine governments and the MILF have been in stop-start negotiations since 1997, but an acceptable political deal remain elusive.

Leonen said the review ordered by President Benigno Aquino III was not aimed at restarting the peace process from scratch, but to give the new team an understanding of what had been achieved in trying to end the insurgency.

“Nine years under a different administration; you cannot just expect a two-month old government to simply take the driver’s seat immediately after that nine years,” said Leonen.

He indicated international parties would remain involved in the peace process, but did not provide details. Malaysia has facilitated talks since 2001 and the rebels want them to stay on in that role.

The government has said it was keen for talks to restart after the holy month of Ramadan, and Leonen noted that while it had named some of its panel, the MILF had not yet named any of its team.

(Reporting by John Mair; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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