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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 10:05 GMT
Philippine peace talks resume
Philippine troops in  the south (archive picture)
Philippine troops have long battled southern insurgencies
The Philippines government and Islamic separatist rebels have resumed talks aimed at ending several decades of conflict.

The negotiations are expected to focus on details of the establishment of a Muslim homeland.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels want a separate Islamic state in the Mindanao region, in the southern Philippines.

But many local Catholic landowners are against the idea.

Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting, although a truce has been in place since 2003 while negotiations continue.

Cautious optimism

The two-day talks are being held in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

"We are hopeful that something will come out on the discussion of the agenda on ancestral domain," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters on Monday.

"[The authorities] said an accord could be signed in 2006. We're not disputing that, but what's important is we're talking," added rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu.

Analysts say a peace deal would be a step towards developing the south of the Philippines, which is rich in minerals and other resources.

In talks last year, the government and the MILF declared a breakthrough on the issue of a Muslim homeland.

This meetings will focus on concluding the details of this homeland and the rehabilitation of conflict areas.

But there has been little progress on other issues, such as the form of government and the future of the MILF's 12,000 guerrilla fighters.

According to the BBC's Sarah Toms in Manila, fighting last week between the rebels and government-backed militias also threatens the fragile truce, and could further complicate the peace process.

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