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Philippine Government Denies Slowing Peace Process With Muslim Rebels


The Philippine government denies that it is deliberately slowing down the peace process with Muslim rebels, and says the pullout of Malaysian truce monitors from the south of the country will not likely lead to new fighting. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila.

The peace talks between the Manila government and the rebels have been stalled since December. The sides earlier informally agreed on such key areas such as territory, but the government says a constitutional amendment is required to implement the proposals.

Negotiators for the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, walked away from the talks in protest.

Retired General Rodolfo Garcia, the government's chief negotiator, says the constitutional issues are not a stalling tactic. He says legal experts are reviewing peace proposals to make sure they will hold up when an agreement is finalized.

"What the government panel is doing with the legal people is to ensure that the consensus points are defensible, that they could be implementable when the agreement is signed," he said.

Malaysia this month began withdrawing its peace monitors from the southern Philippines, where Muslim separatists have fought an insurgency for over four decades. Its forces make up the majority of the 60-person international monitoring force but Malaysia will not extend the mission when it expires in September.

Malaysian troops have been monitoring a cease-fire between rebel forces and the government since 2004 and there has been a sharp decrease in violence since then. Political and security analysts have said the pullout could lead to significant new fighting.

However, government negotiator Garcia says that is unlikely.

"I think there will be small flashes of fighting but this would not degenerate into a large-scale war," he said.

Malaysia has been brokering the peace talks since 2001 and says it will continue to do so despite pulling out the monitors. The talks have dragged on for more than 10 years.

The MILF and other Muslim groups have fought to create an Islamic state in the southern Philippines, a mostly Christian nation. The conflict has claimed 120,000 lives and displaced two million people.

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