Gov't postpones peace talks with MILF

Sabah standoff among reasons?

A new round of peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) failed to push through Monday, endangering goals of signing a final peace deal by April.

The 37th round of peace talks have been postponed to April following a request from President Benigno Aquino III, a statement said, and despite the MILF's apparent refusal.

"The President has requested that the 37th round of formal exploratory talks that was originally scheduled to begin today, March 25, be reset to April next month," Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles said in a statement.

Members of the government peace panel, she added, are currently in Kuala Lumpur "to personally convey the request and to set with their counterparts the new date for the talks."

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Malaysia is acting as the third party facilitator of the peace talks, a role it is keeping despite recent bloody standoff between its forces and followers of the Sulu Sultanate staking their claim on Sabah.

"The Sabah issue should not affect the ongoing talks with the MILF," the President said at the sidelines of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines' fifth anniversary Monday.

Deles meanwhile noted that amid the postponement, peace negotiators are expected to prepare for the first en banc meeting of the 15-member Transition Commission which will craft the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

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In an editorial posted in its online portal Luwaran.net Saturday, however, the MILF said it had "refused to agree to postpone" the negotiations, stressing the "urgency of concluding the peace talks."

"We know that the momentum is there but any dilly-dallying is bringing us closer to the other path," the MILF said, noting uncertainty if a final pact is not clinched under the Aquino administration.

The MILF leadership went on to say that such failure "can be a menu for more violence and fighting in Mindanao."

The ongoing peace talks are part of the effort to finalize a peace pact earlier laid out by a landmark framework agreement signed in October.

The agreement, which is seen to end the decade-long insurgency in Mindanao, includes provisions on the creation of an autonomous Bangsamoro juridical entity.

Related slideshow: Aquino visits Moro turf

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