The Philippines' main Muslim rebel group blamed the government yesterday for an impasse in peace talks aimed at ending more than three decades of insurgency in the south, saying it has failed to address the conflict's real cause.
Chief rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal's grim view of the 10-year-old Malaysian-brokered negotiations -- published yesterday on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) Web site -- stands in contrast to the government's hopes of signing a peace deal soon.
Iqbal, who returned from another round of inconclusive talks in Kuala Lumpur last week, told the luwaran.com Web site that Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's administration was treating the peace process "as a mere counterinsurgency measure by seeking to restore peace in Mindanao without really addressing the real cause of the conflict."
At the heart of the conflict are the insurgents' demands for a homeland in the southern region of Mindanao, the scene of a bloody separatist insurgency by minority Muslims. The insurgents are seeking control of the territory and its resources, and governance over it.
"The Arroyo regime is not decisive and has no real thing to offer to the MILF except rhetoric," he was quoted as saying.
The government acknowledged last week a continuing impasse on efforts to define a territory for a future Muslim homeland.
But chief government negotiator Silvestre Afable has denied the talks broke down and said the government will craft a new proposal for the negotiations. Officials have declined to elaborate, citing the sensitivity of the talks.
The peace talks are regarded as crucial by the Philippine and US governments, which hope to contain the areas where smaller al-Qaeda-linked groups such as the Abu Sayyaf and an unspecified number of Indonesian militants can operate.
A 2003 ceasefire between the government and the MILF has largely held despite minor incidents of violence.
Military Chief of Staff General Hermogenes Esperon estimated the MILF strength at 11,150 fighters.
He also warned last week that the group has maintained a combat-ready force while reportedly continuing to train and recruit new members.
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