Philippine gov't, Muslim rebels to resume talks in Malaysia next week

The Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim militant group will resume talks next week in Malaysia to discuss remaining issues prior to striking a final, comprehensive peace agreement aimed at ending more than 40 years of Muslim insurgency.

Government chief negotiator Miriam Colonel-Ferrer and Moro Islamic Liberation Front lead negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told Kyodo News Thursday their respective delegations are scheduled to meet in Kuala Lumpur from July 8 to 11 to discuss issues such as sharing wealth and power.

"We expect good things to happen," Iqbal said about the upcoming meeting, which will be the first talks since the mid-term national elections in May, and the sixth since the government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro in October last year.

The Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro is a preliminary peace agreement calling for the creation of an autonomous political entity called Bangsamoro.

The government and the MILF last met in Kuala Lumpur in early April to discuss the "architecture for the normalization process," which lead to the signing of the terms of reference for Sajahatra Bangsamoro, a development program for the delivery of basic economic services to target communities in Muslim-dominated Mindanao island

The agreement was signed in the presence of the Malaysian lead facilitator of the peace talks.

"The aim for the upcoming meeting is to agree on how to settle the remaining issues so that we can sign the annex on wealth-sharing and complete the drafts on power-sharing and normalization, so we can submit these to our principals for a final review," Ferrer said.

Since the meeting in April, the two sides have been exchanging notes on unresolved issues through the Malaysian facilitator.

A transitional commission has also been set up under the framework agreement, preparing to draft a law which will create Bangsamoro, replacing the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The framework agreement states that a Bangsamoro government should be in place by 2016.

Both sides had planned to sign the final agreement last December, but delayed the signing due to a number of unresolved issues, including the disarmament of the MILF.

The MILF claims to have trained about 120,000 combatants since the establishment of its military force in 1982, equipping around 84,000 of them with firearms.

The government estimates, however, the MILF forces to be around 11,000 men strong.

The MILF has been fighting for self-determination since the 1970s, resulting in armed conflicts that left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions displaced.

Their struggle stems from what they call colonization of their ancestral territory, which began with Spanish rule in the 16th century.