Oil report

Philippines says wants ceasefire with Muslim rebels

MANILA, June 2 (Reuters) - The Philippines is determined to end decades-old conflict in the restive south and wants a “true” ceasefire with Muslim rebels to move the peace process forward, the interior secretary said on Tuesday.

Fighting has escalated in the last six weeks in the oil and gas-rich marshlands on the southern island of Mindanao, forcing thousands to flee to temporary shelter areas, further pushing back prospects of peace.

“The administration is determined to do everything it takes to come up with a final peace agreement,” Ronaldo Puno told foreign correspondents in Manila, adding the government has asked Muslim states to take a more active role to restart talks.

“We can’t do it alone. We are really looking for some participation from the Islamic conference on this,” he said, referring to the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

“If we can at least get back to a stage where we are talking rather than fighting ... we will be able to move forward.”

Puno said the government wanted to immediately reimpose a ceasefire with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, after a rogue faction went on the rampage last year, attacking Catholic-majority towns in the south.

“Our minimum desired result is the restoration of peace in the area and at the very least a reimposition of a true and effective ceasefire properly monitored by the international monitoring team,” said Puno.

“But, there has to be a stop to the practice of MILF members engaging in violent action who will be denied by the MILF leadership at the time of their action and reclaimed at the time of government counter-action.”

The government wanted Islamic states, including some of its Southeast Asian neighbours, to help talk to Muslim rebels to agree to return to the negotiating table.

Manila has attempted but failed to get an observer status in the OIC.

In 1996, the OIC, through Indonesia, Libya and Saudi Arabia, successfully brokered a peace deal between the Philippines and the secular Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the south.

Manila is also talking separately with the MILF to end 40 years of Muslim rebellion in the south of the mainly Catholic states which has killed more than 120,000 people and stunted economic growth on resource-rich Mindanao. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)