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Wealth-sharing tops peace talks agenda

Peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim rebels will resume on July 8 in Kuala Lumpur with the contentious issue of wealth-sharing as the main focus of discussion, an insurgent leader said Friday. The talks will be held even though they coincide with the Muslim month of Ramadan which may require fasting by Muslim participants, said Ghadzali Jaafar, vice-chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Because it is so important, both parties decided to hold the talks even on Ramadan, he told AFP. Ramadan starts of July 9 and the talks will likely last for five days, he added. Government negotiators could not be contacted for comment. However earlier this month, members of the government peace panel said they hoped to resume talks with the MILF in early July. The government hopes to kickstart negotiations for a peace settlement that looked to have stalled in recent months. The negotiations, which began in 1997, aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million. The two sides signed a preliminary agreement in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that would be signed by 2016, before President Benigno Aquino leaves office. However, both sides have since acknowledged difficulties in thrashing out the details of key issues like wealth- and power-sharing within the proposed autonomous region, as well as disarming and demobilising the MILF. The 12,000-member MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives. The group has since agreed to a ceasefire to negotiate for autonomy instead. Although sporadic clashes have since taken place, the truce has largely held. Malaysia has hosted the on-again, off-again peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government since 2001. It has also deployed troops to head an international peace mission monitoring a truce between the opposing sides.
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