Philippines, rebels agree to revive peace deal

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RIYADH, Nov 13 (Reuters) The Philippines government and Muslim rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have agreed to revive a 1996 peace agreement after talks in Saudi Arabia, the head of a league of Islamic states said today.

''Today we are launching a process with a road map that will certainly lead us to the right destination which is peace and prosperity to Mindanao and the rest of the Republic of the Philippines,'' said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

MNLF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are the two larger separatist groups in Philippines. MILF has a truce with the government.

The three-party talks in the Red Sea city of Jeddah opened on November 10 and ended yesterday, OIC said in a statement.

''The meeting was historic considering the results reached in terms of pushing forward the peace process by creating a framework to revive the implementation of the 1996 peace accord,'' Ihsanoglu said. The statement did not give details.

Formed in 1968, MNLF fought to set up a separate and independent Islamic state before Libya brokered a truce in 1976 and convinced the rebels to accept an autonomy offer.

It took 20 years before they signed the peace deal but it has since floundered due to a lack of funds, poor implementation and opposition from hardliners.

MNLF has said the 1996 agreement was not fully implemented and Manila short-changed the rebel group.

The Islamic Development Bank will grant 16 million dollars to help reconstruction in southern Philippines, OIC said in the statement.

It did not elaborate on the nature of the grant.

''Peace will not become a reality unless the process is accompanied by economic and infrastructural development, reconstruction, correction of injustice, proper settlement of the displaced population and ensuring equitable and just distribution of facilities for all,'' the statement said.

The conflict between government troops and Muslim separatists has killed over 120,000 people and displaced around 2 million.

Ihsanoglu urged Philippines authorities to allow MNLF's chief Nur Misuari to take part in talks.

''It will greatly contribute to the restoration of confidence between the two parties, especially in Sulu Island which has suffered too much and too long,'' he said.

REUTERS SBC BD2133

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