Philippines, Muslim rebels resume peace talks
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - The Philippine government and a Muslim separatist group Tuesday resumed peace talks that collapsed 16 months ago, restoring formal efforts to end a decades-long rebellion that has claimed at least 120,000 lives.
Negotiators from both sides met at a Kuala Lumpur hotel for the Malaysian-brokered talks, but they were not expected to issue any information until the talks conclude Wednesday, according to a Malaysian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been fighting for Muslim self-rule for decades in Mindanao, the southern homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic Philippines. It is the biggest of at least four Muslim rebel groups that have waged a bloody rebellion in the volatile south.
The Moro rebels are present in most southern provinces, including Maguindanao, where a powerful southern clan allied with the Philippine government is suspected in the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people traveling in an election convoy.
One of the arrested family members, Andal Ampatuan Jr., blamed the Moro rebels for the killings, but rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu and Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera denied the guerrillas were involved.
The government has deployed thousands of troops to disarm some 2,400 gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans, and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said he had asked the Moro rebels for help in blocking the gunmen’s escape routes - a rare cooperation between the two sides.
Negotiations with the rebels had fallen apart in August last year when the Philippine Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a preliminary accord on an expanded Muslim autonomous region.