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Malaysia to Monitor Peace Between Philippines Government, Rebels - 2004-03-22

A group of Malaysian peace monitors arrived in the Philippines Monday as part of efforts to end a decades-old conflict between Muslim rebels and the government.

The eight Malaysians will visit strife-torn areas on the southern island of Mindanao, ahead of the arrival of a larger body of troops to monitor a cease-fire agreement between the government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF.

The visit is designed to build confidence ahead of the resumption of peace negotiations between Manila and the rebels. Malaysia, which has been helping broker a peace settlement between the two sides, will be the host of the April talks.

Teresita Quintos-Deles advises the Philippine president on the peace process. She says the findings of the advance party will set out the ground rules for the main body of peacekeepers, who are expected to arrive next month.

"The advance party is to look at the situation on the ground, the basis of which will determine the final terms of reference for the actual monitoring team," said Ms. Quintos-Deles. "So this is really just a short-term advance party."

The Philippine government and the MILF have been engaged in on-and-off peace negotiations since late 1997 in an effort to end separatist fighting that has killed tens of thousands people.

The MILF, which the Philippine army accuses of being linked to the regional terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiah, has been struggling for more than three decades to establish a Muslim homeland in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.