Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law
MANILA, March 13 (Reuters) - The Philippines is open to amending a law creating a Muslim autonomous region on a restive southern island officials said on Friday, after two days of talks with a group of former separatist guerrillas.
Manila also won pledges from members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to pour more development assistance into Muslim areas affected by 40 years of conflict that has killed 120,000 people, said Nabil Tan, the government's deputy peace adviser.
Tan said the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) would work together to draft a new law.
"We agreed to create a legal panel to harmonise proposals on how to improve the implementation of a peace pact that created the autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao," Tan said.
In 1996, the Philippine government and the MNLF signed a peace deal, brokered by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and Indonesia, to end a separatist rebellion that has displaced 2 million in the south.
The larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), also a rebel group, however did not accept the agreement and continued the struggle for an independent Mulsim homeland in the southern Philippines.
In 1978, a group of Islamic fundamentalist rebels split from the more secular MNLF. They did not agree with the autonomy deal between Manila and the MNLF, brokered by Libya.
Six years later, the MILF was formally organised in Muslim rebels on mainland Mindanao, drawing more support from Muslims not happy with the MNLF's political deal with the government.
Last year, the government agreed to expand the ancestral homeland for Muslims in the south after talks with the MILF, but negotiations were suspended when violence escalated in six southern provinces.
Tan said the joint legal panel with the MNLF will have until the end of April to propose amendments.
He said the OIC was also eager to get a copy of the proposed legislation ahead of its annual ministerial meeting in Damascus late in May and could serve as a basis for asking Islamic states to contribute to a "peace and development fund".
Since 2001, Malaysia has been brokering talks between Manila and the MILF. Both sides are hoping to restart talks as soon as possible but little progress has been made. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Valerie Lee)
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