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MALAYSIAN TO HOST PHILIPPINE PEACE DEAL


The Philippine government and an Islamic separatist group are on a "fast track" to signing a peace deal that would end a decades-long conflict, the Malaysian hosts of the talks have said.
Othman Abdul Razak, the Malaysian facilitator, said negotiators hope to secure a deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front [MILF] by March or April.
  • "There are a lot of challenges ahead. It is not an easy task," Razak said on Wednesday, after two-days of talks in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.
  • "We are trying to sign the compact by the first quarter of next year [before Gloria Arroyo, the president, steps down] so we are going on a fast-track," he said.
  • In a joint statement, the two sides said they had agreed to re-establish an international task force "to monitor ceasefire, humanitarian, rehabilitation, development and civilian protection agreements".
  • Othman said that Malaysia would be a leading member of the new monitoring team, and that it could be deployed in as little as a month.
  • "It depends on how soon the contingent will be ready. Once cabinet gives approval ... we will move very quickly," he said.
  • The MILF has also said it is optimistic about reaching a settlement in the talks, which collapsed in August 2008 when they launched deadly attacks across the southern island of Mindanao, resulting in a mass exodus of residents.
  • Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, said that the group "does not want war" but that it "will not accept an imposed or half-baked solution".
  • The violence in 2008 broke out after the Philippine supreme court banned a proposed deal that would have given the MILF control over large areas of the south, which the group claims as its "ancestral domain".
  • Over 700,000 people were displaced at the height of the fighting and nearly 400 were killed in the MILF's fight for Muslim self-rule.
The Agencies
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