Philippine Muslim rebels vow to win peace

MANILA - Muslim rebels who have been waging a decades-long rebellion in the Philippines said Monday they would "do everything possible" to ensure a peace accord is implemented, as crucial talks made slow progress.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator for the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said it was determined to press ahead with negotiations despite the recent setbacks.

"The process is very hard and tough but that will not deter us from doing everything possible to make it happen," Iqbal told AFP after a 10-day session of talks ended on Sunday without agreement on key issues.

"Peace is at stake. No one wants to spoil it." The MILF is the main rebel group that has been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in the southern Philippines for the nation's Muslim minority.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict.

The MILF and President Benigno Aquino's government signed an accord in March that laid out a roadmap for final peace by the middle of 2016.

Under the peace accord, the MILF would have control of a new southern autonomous region, and the rebels would lay down their arms.

However the peace process has since become bogged down in finalising the most sensitive issues in a draft law to create the autonomous region, such as who would be in control of security and budgets.

A commission made up of MILF and government representatives drafted a bill and submitted it to Aquino for review in April.

But the president's legal team ordered a series of changes that frustrated the MILF.

In a joint statement on Sunday at the end of their latest talks, the government and MILF negotiating panels said they aim to complete a new draft bill by August 18.

The deadline is seen as important to keep the roadmap on schedule, allowing time for Congress to pass the law by the end of this year and for other key measures in 2015.

The deadline of mid-2016 was set since Aquino must stand down by then after the single six-year term mandated by the constitution. There are no guarantees his successor will want to proceed with the peace plan.

Iqbal and chief government negotiator Miriam Ferrer told AFP on Monday the bill could be agreed upon by August 18, but said further delays were possible.

Senior Aquino aides have also said in recent days the law may not be passed this year, but insisted a final peace could still be achieved by 2016.