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Manila, Muslim rebels deadlocked over land issue

Written by: Staff
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KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 (Reuters) The Philippine government and Muslim rebels today ended informal peace talks in Malaysia without resolving the stubborn issue of territory, or jurisdiction over Muslim land, the two sides said.

But the three-day talks, aimed at ending nearly 40 years of conflict, cited progress on other issues, including the sharing of natural resources and governance in the Muslim homeland on the southern island of Mindanao.

''It achieved significant progress ... with the exception of territorial delimitation, which was highly technical in nature and requires further deliberation,'' government negotiators and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said in a statement.

These include the need to validate and verify data on the ground, the parties said.

They did not say when negotiations hosted by Malaysia would resume. Both sides had hoped to break the deadlock this week and fix a date for the signing of an agreement on ancestral domain, which would pave the way for a final peace pact by September.

Today's statement gave no indication if the failure to resolve the territory issue would delay the pact beyond September.

The MILF has been fighting for an independent state for Muslims on Mindanao, although a truce has held since July 2003.

Negotiators from both sides had in February agreed to a preliminary deal on ancestral domain, the key to ending the revolt that has cost more than 120,000 lives.

The revolt has stunted development of resource-rich Mindanao and clouded the overall investment and security climate of the Philippines.

Ancestral domain involves issues such as territories in the south that would be part of the Muslim ancestral homeland, the sharing of revenues from strategic resources such as gold, copper and oil and the form of government within the area.

REUTERS SY PM1800

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