The son of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has discussed unifying the two main Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines to help achieve a comprehensive peace between the rebels and Manila. The development came out of a three-day visit to the Philippines by Saif al-Islam Gadhafi. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila that Libya has played a key role in Philippine peace efforts before.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, is negotiating a treaty with Manila to end four decades of conflict in the south.
Another Muslim rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, reached a peace agreement in 1996 but it leaders complain the pact did not deliver much needed economic development.
The two rebel organizations split decades ago.
Saif al-Islam Gadhafi met with representatives of both groups in Manila Thursday to discuss unity. Libya has mediated for years between the Manila and the Muslim rebels.
Salem Adam, a former Libyan ambassador to the Philippines, traveled with the Libyan leader's son to Manila.
"They discussed the possibility of unity among the Bangsamoro [Moro] Muslims and also they are talking about the time frame," he said. "It should not exceed September 2008 that the Muslims, whether they are MNLF or MILF, should get together and choose their leadership and become one group."
After the talks, the two groups said they agreed to set a timetable for resolving the conflict, "possibly not beyond September 2008."
A road map for this goal will be drawn up under Gadhafi's supervision and in coordination with other Muslim countries.
The Philippine government says it hopes to reach an agreement with the MILF next year, and the MILF has said it is keeping its doors open to the MNLF. Political analysts say unity between the rebel groups is important to a lasting settlement.
Gadhafi, who heads a Libyan charity and development foundation, also met with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and other government officials during his visit.
Libya has played a key role in past peace efforts. It brokered a preliminary peace pact between Manila and MNLF, and has contributed development aid to the country's Muslim regions.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, of which Libya is a member, has also been involved in the peace process. It initiated the first formal peace talks between the Philippines and the MNLF and has monitored implementation of their peace agreement.
The Philippines is a mostly Christian nation. The MILF has been fighting for a Muslim homeland in south where the Muslim minority is concentrated. The conflict has cost 120,000 lives and billions of dollars in economic losses.