Manila, Muslim Rebels Hold Talks in Tripoli
The Filipino government and the main Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front began talks in Tripoli on Wednesday in a bid to forge a peace deal under the aegis of Libyan leader Moammer Kadhafi's son, Seif Al Islam.
The negotiations to end a 23-year rebellion by the MILF were planned to last until June 25, a source in the Kadhafi Charitable Foundation headed by Islam said.
Filpino Vice President and Foreign Minister Teofisto Guingona is heading the government side, while MILF military chief Muhammad Murad leads the rebel delegation.
Malaysian and Indonesian representatives, including Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, are also present.
Though the Libyan source said the talks were expected to end with a peace agreement, Guingona this week suggested they would last longer.
Succeeding talks will be held in "shifting venues" between Tripoli and the capitals of fellow Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) members Malaysia and Indonesia, which will act as mediators, he said.
The 12,500-member MILF has been fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Roman Catholic Philippine archipelago.
Among the issues to be put forward in the first round of talks is an MILF demand for Manila to recognize more than 40 rebel-controlled areas, where there will be a complete "cessation of hostilities" in exchange for economic development.
In addition, the two sides would agree to a commission of Indonesia, Libya and Malaysia to verify the ceasefire. The MILF would also be called on to respect the 1996 peace accords signed by the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
MILF, which had been left out of the previous peace talks, split off from the MNLF in 1978.
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said his movement was ready to cast aside armed struggle "on condition of finding a political settlement to the problem of Mindanao that would be acceptable to the Moro people."
Last August, the Kadhafi Charity Organization financed the liberation of 21 western hostages held by Abu Sayyaf, which is also fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern third of the Philippines, on the southern island of Jolo.
The Abu Sayyaf is currently holding 26 hostages in the south of the country. Libya has not been involved in mediation with the group this time.
The MILF has condemned the kidnappings and assured Manila that it would not help the kidnappers flee a massive military assault to free the hostages – TRIPOLI (AFP)
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