Philippine Muslim rebels warn peace talks at risk

MANILA - Philippine Muslim rebels who have waged one of Asia's longest insurgencies threatened Thursday to abandon peace talks unless the government quickly submitted its proposal for a political settlement.

The 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said the latest round of talks held in Malaysia last week were clouded with mistrust, and accused government negotiators of not taking their demands seriously.

Michael Mastura, a senior member of the MILF panel, said the rebels had been expecting to receive the government's proposal last week, but had instead been told to wait until June 27.

"If they do not (give the proposal by June 27), we will not return to the negotiating table," Mastura told an academic forum in Manila.

"This is not a warning. We are stating a fact. We mean business."

Chief MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said there also appeared to be saboteurs within the government who did not want to see a deal signed by the end of June, a timeframe for peace that President Benigno Aquino set last year.

"The most powerful and well-entrenched 'spoilers', if I may use the word, are mostly in the government," Iqbal said.

He did not give any names, but said the spoilers were officials who owned land on the southern island of Mindanao, where the MILF has waged its separatist campaign since 1978.

The conflict has claimed about 150,000 lives, according to the military.

When asked about the MILF's threat, chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen told AFP that the government had always intended to submit its proposal by June 27 and still planned to do so.

The MILF had initially fought for an independent Islamic state on Mindanao, a resource-rich island where Muslims have long lived but are a minority.

But in its peace proposal submitted to the government in February, the MILF said it was no longer seeking to secede and instead wanted the creation of a 'sub-state' under its control on Mindanao.

The envisioned area covers 700 villages and towns the MILF claims as its historical territories.