Aug 9 (Reuters) - The Philippines' largest Muslim guerrilla group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which wants a separate homeland, said peace talks could be imperilled by the new administration's plan to review negotiations.
More than 120,000 people have died and 2 million been displaced by the separatist rebellion which has run for more than four decades, hobbling investment and development in an area rich which resources such mines, and natural gas and oil fields.
Talks brokered by Malaysia since March 2001 have resulted in a truce and a government commitment to rebuild Muslim communities in conflict areas, but an acceptable political deal remains elusive.
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Here are five facts on the MILF:
- The group was formed after Egypt-educated Islamist cleric Salamat Hashim broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1978 after it had signed a deal with the government accepting an autonomy set-up in the south.
MILF has around 11,000 members. Its main base is the central region of Mindanao island, and has a presence on remote southern islands of Basilan and Jolo.
- In the Afghan war against the Soviets in the 1980s, the MILF recruited dozens of Filipino Muslims to train in Pakistan and fight in Afghanistan with other Southeast Asian jihadists. Hashim shuttled between Mindanao and Pakistan at that time.
- From the late 1990s until the middle of 2000s, the MILF allowed al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the Southeast Asian regional militant network, to seek shelter and train in rebel bases in Maguindanao and Lanao provinces.
- The MILF severed its links with Islamist militants, such as Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiah and al Qaeda, in 2004 to save talks with the government and avoid being labeled a foreign terrorist group by Washington and other Western European states.
However, Philippine security officials say some MILF members continue to shelter about 50 Islamist militants from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, most of them trained at rebel bases in Lanao and Maguindanao provinces.
- Since 1997, peace talks between the government and the MILF have been stop-start. Cease-fire agreements have been broken at least three times, with troops launching offensives in response to deadly bombings and attacks on Christian communities in the south that were blamed on the rebels.
The latest major conflict was in August 2008, when the Supreme Court blocked a deal after Christian politicians opposed expanding an autonomous area for Muslims and giving its regional government vast political and economic powers. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair)
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