Philippines, Muslims clear the air
The Philippine government and Muslim rebels said on Thursday their first meeting since an outburst of bloody clashes had helped rebuild mutual confidence as they pursue a peace deal.
Mohagher Iqbal, peace envoy for the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), told AFP their meeting in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur was "positive."
"It was an informal meeting... It's a positive way forward but nothing definite was reached," he said.
Philippine government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said in a statement that both sides "cleared the air about pressing issues regarding the negotiations" in the one-day talks.
Iqbal said both sides also agreed to investigate the recent clashes, including an October 18 incident on Basilan island off the large southern island of Mindanao in which 19 soldiers were killed by MILF fighters.
It was among a series of clashes in October triggered by a government pursuit of wanted outlaws that turned into pitched battles with rebel fighters.
The violence left as many as 40 soldiers, police and civilians dead, and cast a pall over the already shaky peace process.
"Let's wait for this (the outcome of the investigation)," Iqbal said, when asked whether the MILF would take any action against members involved in the violence.
The two sides are holding a series of meetings in Kuala Lumpur aimed at ending a decades-long insurgency by the 12,000-strong rebel group. A date for the next round has not been set.
Philippine deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte told AFP Manila would "continue to push for the peace talks" even as the military pursues "lawless elements" in Mindanao.
The two sides are supposed to be observing a ceasefire but the long-running negotiations stalled after the MILF snubbed Manila's "roadmap" for peace in August.
The peace proposal was the first by the government since a 2008 Supreme Court decision outlawing a proposed autonomy deal that would have given the MILF control over 700 towns and villages in the south, including some Christian areas.
An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict, which began in the 1970s.