Peace talks between Philippine officials and Muslim rebels to be likely resume

Peace talks between Philippine officials and Muslim rebels will likely resume this month in Malaysia after they were postponed partly because of a state of emergency in the Philippines, a Malaysian official said Tuesday.

However, the postponement could delay plans for Manila to sign a pact on territorial claims with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, said Othman Abdul Razak, a strategic adviser to Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"Everything has to be reviewed, as far as the timeline is concerned," Othman, a facilitator for the Malaysian-brokered negotiations, told The Associated Press.

During the last round of discussions last month, both sides expressed hopes of signing a formal agreement on Muslim ancestral land claims in the southern Philippines in March, which they said could pave the way for a comprehensive peace accord in September.

Talks had been scheduled to resume Monday, but Malaysia postponed the meeting, partly because of political uncertainties involving Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's declaration of a state of emergency Feb. 24 to deal with a purported coup plot, Othman said. The emergency was lifted on Friday.

"We will decide on a new date, which could be within this month," Othman said. "As far as this situation is concerned, we're being flexible and not too rigid with the timeline."

The MILF, which the Philippine military says has 11,000 men with more than 8,000 firearms, has been fighting for self-rule in the southern Mindanao region for more than two decades. A 2003 cease-fire is in place while Malaysian-hosted negotiations are underway, reports the AP.

I.L.