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PHL urges quick end to MILF problem

KUALA LUMPUR - The Philippines called on Moro rebels to pull together with Manila to formally end a long-running insurgency in the south by early 2012 as the two sides opened a new round of peace talks Monday.
The negotiations in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur mark the first round of formal peace talks since deadly clashes erupted in October and nearly led to a complete collapse of the peace effort.
"On behalf of the government, let me now state this challenge: let us complete our task within the first quarter of next year," Philippine negotiator Marvic Leonen said, according to a copy of an opening statement at the talks.
Early this year, the government set a one-year target for formally concluding hostilities with the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
That timeline looked in peril after an October ambush in which MILF rebels killed 19 soldiers on the southern island of Basilan.
The killings led to fierce battles on several fronts on the main southern island of Mindanao, during which as many as 40 soldiers, police and civilians were killed and thousands displaced.
Leonen urged the MILF to do more to rein in "lawless elements" that threaten peace.
"We, however, call on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to show more of its commitment by more actively identifying and assisting in the arrest of many lawless elements," he said in his opening statement to the close-door talks.
A rebel spokesman could not immediately be reached.
In comments to AFP on Sunday, Philippine presidential adviser to the peace process Teresita Deles declined to speculate on what might be achieved in this week's talks.
A Philippine spokeswoman said the talks were set to last three days.
The recent violence raised pressure on President Benigno Aquino to break off negotiations and launch an all-out war against the MILF.
But Aquino held firm, and last month negotiators met in Kuala Lumpur for preparatory talks ahead of this week's formal restart.
Leonen said the government would not waver in its pursuit of a negotiated settlement.
In August, the MILF snubbed a government counter-proposal that did not address their demand for the creation of a "sub-state" for Muslims.
The rebellion has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives since it began in the 1970s. — AFP
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December 5, 2011 3:30pm

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