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Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 01:05 GMT


World: Asia-Pacific

Muslim rebels insist on independence



Islamic separatists in the Philippines have vowed they will not compromise on their demands for independence as they prepare to meet the government for peace talks.

Monday's negotiations follow new fighting between the army and Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines which has left dozens dead and forced tens of thousands to flee.

The meeting between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao is the latest in a peace process begun two years ago to hammer out a solution to more than 20 years of insurgency.

Muslims complain their interests are ignored by Manila. The MILF, said to have 12,000 combatants, is the larger of two rebel groups fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines

The two sides at the latest meeting are expected to delineate rebel-held areas to prevent armed encounters and draft an agenda for the formal peace talks.

Ceasefire

The government and rebels signed a ceasefire in the southern island of Mindanao last week following the violence that erupted in late January.

But MILF chairman, Salamat Hashim, told the BBC there could be no compromise in the group's demand for independence.

Manila has long insisted that limited autonomy is the most that it would concede.

But BBC South East Asia Correspondent Simon Ingram says 10 years of limited self-rule for four provinces in Mindanao has been less than a total success.

With half its armed forces deployed in the island, there is a strong incentive for President Joseph Estrada to show flexibility.

The president has said he will not give in to the rebels' demands, but has agreed to meet Hashim Salamat later this month to discuss the peace process and economic prospects in the mineral-rich south.





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