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Muslim rebels say early pact with Manila unlikely

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08:53 PM January 12th, 2012

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January 12th, 2012 08:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines—The largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines said an early peace pact with the government is unlikely, citing remaining key differences.

Government negotiators on Wednesday ended three days of talks with the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Malaysia, which has been brokering the yearslong negotiations. Both sides agreed to hold another round of talks next month.

Government negotiator Marvic Leonen said in a statement Thursday that the talks “have inched forward but not fast enough.” He has hoped a peace pact could be concluded within the next three months to allow it to be enforced and adjusted if necessary before President Benigno Aquino III’s term ends in 2016.

Rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal was not as optimistic. “I don’t think it can be done,” he said and described the just-concluded talks in Kuala Lumpur as “very intense.”

Iqbal said without elaborating that contentious issues remain, including the question of amending the Philippine constitution to allow certain provisions of a future accord.

The Moro has waged a bloody insurgency for self-rule in southern Mindanao region, homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. The rebels have dropped their demand for independence but are seeking the establishment of a “Bangsamoro state” under the central government in Manila.

The Supreme Court rejected in 2008 a preliminary peace pact that sought to expand an existing Muslim autonomous region on grounds that it was unconstitutional. The rejection prompted three rebel commanders to launch deadly attacks on Christian communities in the south, sparking a major military offensive and displacing large numbers of people.

The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people in the last four decades and stunted development in one of the country’s resource-rich but poorest regions.

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