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Malaysia, Philippines Agree on New Peace Talks - 2004-01-20

Manila and Kuala Lumpur agreed on Tuesday on a plan for fresh peace talks aimed at ending a long-standing Muslim insurgency in the troubled southern Philippines.

President Gloria Arroyo and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is visiting Manila, agreed that Malaysia would play the role of mediator in a bid to end nearly three decades of insurgency by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The meeting between the negotiators and rebels will take place in Kuala Lumpur by mid-February.

The MILF has been fighting for more than three decades to establish a separate Muslim homeland in the southern island of Mindanao. The Philippines is mostly Roman Catholic, while Malaysia is mostly Muslim.

Malaysia hosted talks between the Philippine government and the rebels nearly a year ago, but sporadic fighting between government troops and the rebels has hampered formal negotiations.

But Parouk Hussin, governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, believes fewer clashes due to a ceasefire called several months ago have improved goodwill and the chances for a peace deal.

The MILF has been accused of providing training and sanctuary to foreign militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional terror group with alleged ties to al Qaida, a connection denied by the MILF leadership.