Talks falter over demand for vote by Mindanao's people
PEACE talks between the Government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) appear to be bogged down again over expansion of the autonomous region.
The front wants the region in southern Mindanao to include 13 provinces and nine cities. It currently encompasses four provinces and four cities.
With one day of talks remaining, the stalemate may have to be carried over to the next round scheduled for September in Jakarta.
Both sides hope the Jakarta talks will end two decades of Muslim conflict in Mindanao.
The summit, aimed at finalising a peace accord, is being brokered by the 47-member Organisation of Islamic Conference and the Indonesian Government.
Debate has focused on the Government's insistence on a referendum to ask the people of southern Mindanao if they want an autonomous government dominated by Muslims.
MNLF chairman Nur Misuari is opposing the vote, which he fears would be rejected by the region's Christian majority.
Political observers yesterday said hopes for a breakthrough in the current round of talks rested on the friendship between Mr Misuari and presidential executive secretary Ruben Torres, who were roommates at university.
The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, which provisionally controls the four states, opposes the MNLF, which yesterday claimed it had won the support of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Mr Misuari yesterday said the MILF fully supported his group's efforts to set up an autonomous government on the main southern island of Mindanao and adjacent islands.
The MILF, which split from the MNLF in the early 1980s in a squabble over Mr Misuari's leadership, is regarded as the more radical of the two.
In 1992, only four provinces - Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Tawitawi and Sulu - voted to join the Muslim autonomous region.
This time, the MNLF is demanding the inclusion of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and South Cotabato.
It also demands the cities of Marawi, Illian, Cotabato, General Santos and Puerto Princesa in Palawan.
Mr Misuari, government officials and Muslim community leaders have all warned of an increase in extremist violence if the peace talks fail.