Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and the head of the country’s main Muslim rebel group agreed during a secret meeting in Japan to speed up peace talks, the government said yesterday.
“Both agreed to fast-track the negotiations,” a Philippine government statement said after Aquino met Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chairman Murad Ebrahim on Thursday near Tokyo’s Narita airport.
“Both agreed that the implementation of any agreement should happen within the current administration,” it added, referring to Aquino’s six-year term that ends in mid-2016.
MILF vice-chairman Ghazali Jaafar also said by telephone from the southern Philippines that the Japan meeting had been a success.
“It’s a fruitful meeting. The government is serious in looking for [a] genuine solution to the problem,” Jaafar said.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging an insurgency for more than three decades to carve out a separate Muslim state in the mostly Catholic country’s southern island of Mindanao.
The rebellion has killed more than 150,000 people and stunted economic growth in the mineral rich, but impoverished, southern region.
Former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo failed to sign a peace deal with the MILF during the nearly 10 years she was in power.Large scale fighting erupted in 2008 when rogue MILF commanders launched attacks in response to the Supreme Court outlawing a proposed peace deal.