Philippines, Muslim rebels say peace talks extended
MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group will extend the current round of peace talks, both sides said on Friday, aiming to clinch a deal to end a four-decade old conflict in the south of the mainly Catholic country.
The talks, taking place in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, are in their final stages and will be extended for at least one day, a senior government official said. Sources close to the discussions said an announcement on the outcome may not be made until Monday.
After four days, both sides said they needed time to study details of a deal that would set in train a roadmap to create an autonomous region in Muslim-majority areas of Mindanao island before the end of President Benigno Aquino's term in 2016.
"It's been extended, they are still talking at least until tomorrow and I don't know, it may be further extended," Teresita Quintos-Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, told Reuters.
"We're already in the final stages, both sides need to do more deliberations even among themselves and their principals."
Negotiators from both panels told Reuters last month major obstacles to a framework deal being signed this year after nearly 15 years of stop-and-start talks appeared to have been surmounted after intense diplomacy.
"We certainly want to have an agreement within a more immediate time frame," Quintos-Deles said. "Both sides are being bold and cautious at the same time."
She later told reporters by mobile text message that both sides were pressing for an agreement "that we can uphold and stands the best chance to bring us the peace our people have long been hoping for and deserve".
Ghadzali Jaafar, political officer of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), separately told Reuters the talks were proceeding smoothly, with topics including power-sharing and territorial issues.
"All sides are expecting that the talks would remain smooth so that we can attain a peaceful resolution of the Mindanao conflict," he said.
An accord would set up a 15-member Transition Commission, which has until 2015 to draft a law creating the entity that will replace an autonomous region created more than two decades ago and widely seen as a failure.
More than 100,000 people have died in 40 years of conflict with Muslim rebels, one of two long-running insurgencies in the Philippines.
Peace talks with the 11,000-strong MILF started in 1997, but were often interrupted by violence. One of the worst incidents was in 2000, when then-president Joseph Estrada ordered troops to seize rebel bases after an attack on a ferry that killed dozens.
(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco in Manila and Stuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur, Editing by Ron Popeski)
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