Philippines, MILF eye final peace deal by April

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Miriam Coronel-Ferrer: Ruffled emotions PHOTO FROM OPAPP.GOV.PH

KUALA LUMPUR—The Philippines and a Muslim separatist group hope to finalize a peace agreement ending a decades-old insurgency by April, a government negotiator said Thursday.

Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are working to put the finishing touches to plans for disarmament and wealth- and power-sharing by March, and deliver a final “comprehensive agreement” in April, Miriam Coronel Ferrer said.

“We are confident. There are only a few issues left. We will find a resolution. There is no deal-breaker here,” said Coronel Ferrer, the Philippines’ lead negotiator.

She spoke at the conclusion of the latest round of three-day talks between the two sides in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

President Benigno Aquino’s government agreed in October on a road map with the MILF that aims toward a final peace deal by 2016, following years of talks hosted by Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Coronel Ferrer said a stand-off between Malaysian security forces and a group of Filipinos in Sabah would not affect the peace process.

Dozens of Filipinos, some reportedly armed, were dispatched there two weeks ago by the self-proclaimed heir to a former southern Philippine sultanate to press its traditional claim to Sabah.

Jamalul Kiram III has refused to call back his men, complaining that he was left out of the peace road map agreed in October.

“The talks are driven by the two parties. The talks pertain to issues that have to be settled between the MILF and the Philippine government,” Coronel Ferrer said.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for independence in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic Philippines that the country’s Muslim minority claim as their ancestral homeland.

An estimated 150,000 people have died in the unrest in the southern Philippines, though a ceasefire in place since 2003 has largely held.

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