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Manila talks with Muslim rebels end in impasse

Written by: Staff
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KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 22 (Reuters) Informal peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim rebels have ended in Malaysia without settling issues of territory, or jurisdiction of Muslim land, a source close to the talks today said.

The talks resumed this week after discussions aimed at ending nearly 40 years of conflict were delayed following the recent discovery of an alleged coup plot in Manila.

But the source, who declined to be identified, said the negotiators from the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had been unable to reach agreement.

''They've got to tie up some loose ends,'' the source told Reuters. ''There's some problem on the issue of territory.'' The talks could resume early in April, when both sides will try again to break the deadlock and fix a date for the signing of an agreement on ancestral domain, a key part of the peace process, the source said.

In the Philippines, a spokesman for the MILF earlier said its representatives had met the government yesterday to thrash out specifics of territory and governance for a Muslim homeland on the southern island of Mindanao.

''If things go well, we'll go to the signing of an agreement on ancestral domain if not within March, maybe next month,'' Eid Kabalu told Reuters.

The Philippine government said resumption of informal talks made it more likely a final pact could be reached to end the Muslim insurgency in the mainly Catholic country that has killed more than 120,000 people and stunted growth on Mindanao.

''There is much room for optimism that an agreement will be finalised within the year,'' a government spokesman said.

The two sides were meant to meet in Malaysia on March 5-7 but the alleged plot last month to oust Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her declaration of a week of emergency rule, which ended on March 3, delayed the talks.

The conclusion of informal discussions would pave the way for the first formal talks in three years.

Neighbouring Malaysia has hosted the peace talks since 2001.

The two sides hope to sign a landmark peace deal by theb start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on September 16.

REUTERS LR VC1440

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