Philippine President Benigno Aquino met the leader of the country's largest Muslim group at a Tokyo hotel in a push to accelerate peace talks, the government and Muslims said on Friday.
Aquino met Murad Ebrahim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for two hours at a hotel near Narita airport on Thursday evening. They were joined by the heads of the negotiating teams.
"The meeting was cordial but consisted of a frank and candid exchange of their views about the frames of the continuing peace talks and some possible approaches that the parties can take to bring about a peaceful settlement," Marvic Leonen, head of the government's negotiating panel told a news conference in Manila, confirming an earlier Reuters story.
"Both agreed the implementation of any agreement should happen within the current administration. Both agreed to fast track the negotiations," he said.
"There's no secret deal made in the meeting," Leonen said, adding that Aquino had sought the meeting with the Muslim leaders, who are no longer seeking to set up a separate and independent republic.
The Muslims gave few details about the meeting, but described it as "fruitful".
Japan's foreign ministry, which hosted the meeting, issued a statement expressing support for the peace process, hoping the two sides will reach the final peace agreement at an early stage. It also pledged support for development assistance in conflict-affected areas.
The two sides will hold another round of talks on Aug. 20-22 in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. The government is due to issue a counter-proposal to Muslim demand to set up a "state within a state" structure in Muslim provinces.
Analysts said the secret meeting in Tokyo could be part of a strategy to move the peace talks forward after initial delays and suspicion that Manila was insincere in negotiating.
Zainudin Malang, head of a civil society group on the southern island of Mindanao, said the meeting was "a shot in the arm" for a peace process which is steadily losing public support due to delays.
"Before this meeting, the level of confidence among Muslims here on the peace process has been steadily going down, but the Tokyo meeting has suddenly revived people's interest and trust on the government to pursue peace talks," Malang said.
Aquino may be following the policy practised by his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino, who met another Muslim leader, Nur Misuari, in 1986. Those talks led to the resumption of negotiations with his group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the biggest movement at the time.
In 1996, the government of her successor, Fidel Ramos, concluded a peace deal with the MNLF, creating an autonomous government for the Muslim region in the southern Philippines.
The Philippines, an archipelagic country located in the western Pacific Ocean, has a population of 90 million people. The population of Muslims is about 12 million. Between the years 1450 and 1515, two Islamic principalities were founded on the islands of Sulu and Mindanao.
AgenciesLast Mod: 05 Ağustos 2011, 15:56