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Last Updated: Monday, 18 April, 2005, 06:33 GMT 07:33 UK
Philippines peace talks resume
Philippine troops (archive picture)
The peace process has been hampered by outbreaks of fighting
Talks have begun between the Philippine government and rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in an effort to end decades of conflict.

The three-day talks are being held at a secret location in Malaysia.

The two sides are said to be discussing ancestral land in the disputed south of the country - and the rights of ethnic tribes to the area's natural resources.

The MILF has fought for a separate Muslim homeland in the mainly Catholic Philippines for nearly 30 years.

We are hopeful a compromise can be reached
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu

It signed a ceasefire with Manila in 2003, and since then there have been several attempts at reaching a settlement, but also sporadic clashes between troops and militants.

Before the talks began on Monday, officials from both sides voiced hopes that progress would be make during the three-day meeting.

"We are both committed to finding a solution to the centuries-old problem in the southern Philippines," retired Philippine General Rodolfo Garcia told Reuters news agency.

"We are hopeful a compromise can be reached," added MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu.

One factor which is complicating the peace process is the continuing skirmishes between troops and MILF fighters on the ground.

In January 2005, security personnel used helicopter gunships and heavy artillery to defend themselves against 200 MILF fighters.

A main source of contention between the two sides is the government's claim that the MILF has links with foreign terrorists - including Jemaah Islamiah, the South East Asian group blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings.

The MILF has consistently denied the claims, but the issue still dogs negotiations.

This is not the first time Malaysia has helped broker talks between the Philippine government and MILF rebels, as well as provide a neutral venue.

Malaysia would welcome a peaceful settlement to the conflict, not least because thousands of Filipinos have been fleeing to the country in recent years, to escape the fighting.

As well as the MILF, the southern Philippines is also home to militants from the Abu Sayyaf group - which has been known to kidnap people for ransom, and is on the US list of terrorist organisations.

Communist rebels from the New People's Army are also known to be active in the area.

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