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Philippines agrees to peace brokers in Muslim conflict: Govt

The Philippines said on Wednesday it had agreed to allow international peace brokers be involved in negotiations with Muslim separatists who are waging a decades-old war in the south of the country.

world Updated: Sep 16, 2009 07:16 IST

The Philippines said on Wednesday it had agreed to allow international peace brokers be involved in negotiations with Muslim separatists who are waging a decades-old war in the south of the country.

The agreement to include the intermediaries, to be drawn from groups including the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Conference, was a "major breakthrough" in pursuing peace, the government said in a statement.

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim separatist group, agreed to the "International Contact Group" on Tuesday night during backchannel talks in Malaysia, the government said.

Manila had announced earlier on Tuesday that it expected formal peace talks with the MILF to resume following the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan next week.

"The engagement of the ICG (International Contact Group) is a major breakthrough in the pursuit for a durable peace in Mindanao," chief government negotiator Rafael Seguis said in the statement.

The previous round of talks was halted last year after two senior MILF commanders launched coordinated attacks across several mostly Christian towns and provinces on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.

They did so after the Supreme Court rejected a proposed deal granting the rebels control over their so-called "ancestral domain" that covers more than 700 towns and villages.

In the ensuing year of fighting between the two sides in Mindanao, more than 300 civilians and combatants died and about 750,000 people were displaced.

A ceasefire took hold in July as the two sides worked to resume negotiations.

The MILF had long said a condition of returning to talks was the creation of such a panel of peace brokers to monitor and oversee the negotiations.

"They will be the third entity sitting at the table when we resume talks," Manila's chief negotiator, Avelino Razon, told AFP, in reference to the intermediaries.

"They... will assist the panels of the MILF and the (government) in arriving at a final peace agreement. They will physically sit down with us at the negotiating table to act as a facilitator."