Page last updated at 06:56 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 07:56 UK

Philippines to scrap peace panel

Troops evacuate an injured soldier from Lanao del Norte on 27 August 2008
Dozens of people have died in fighting in the south in recent weeks

The Philippine government has scrapped a panel that has been negotiating with southern Muslim rebels, officials say.

Manila would instead shift towards direct dialogue with local communities in a bid to end the violence, a presidential official said.

The move follows recent lethal clashes in the southern island of Mindanao.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in fighting which erupted after the Supreme Court blocked a controversial autonomy deal with the rebels.

The government had hoped that the deal - to expand an existing Muslim autonomous zone - would help end four decades of violence in the region.

But Christian communities opposed the plan, and when the court suspended it in early August, some rebel commanders launched attacks.

Rebel raids

The Philippines government has been holding talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since the late 1990s.

A formal ceasefire has been in place for five years and Malaysian-brokered negotiations have been continuing.

But relations between the two sides have faltered over the failed autonomy deal.

"There are no more talks," presidential spokesman Jesus Dureza told Reuters news agency.

"We're dissolving the peace panel. You don't need it when you're ending talks with an armed group.

"We'll start consulting with the people on the ground and find out how can we resolve the Muslim problem," he said.

Dozens of people have been killed in the southern Philippines in the last month.

Two weeks ago, hundreds of guerrillas raided three mainly Christian towns near the existing autonomous zone, leaving at least 30 people dead. The MILF blamed the raids on renegade commanders.

Troops are trying to capture the rebels, and some areas have seen heavy fighting. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

Muslims make up about 5% of the population in the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines. Separatists have been fighting for greater autonomy in the south for more than 40 years.

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Timeline: The Philippines
12 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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