Talks between the Philippine government and southern separatists that start in Kuala Lumpur today offer the chance for a real step forward in the peace process. The fact the government will attend the talks suggests it might agree to the non-negotiable demand of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) - as represented by Malaysia and Libya - to monitor peace in the south. But the violence continued yesterday, with five villagers and five Muslim rebels killed in a clash in the southern Philippines. About 100 MILF guerillas fired rocket-propelled grenades into several huts in a predominantly Christian village on Mindanao island, killing five civilians and wounding six, military and civilian officials said. Civilians armed with pistols then fought the rebels, killing five. Over the past six years, the government has resisted active foreign intervention in the peace process with separatists, confining other countries' role to hosting meetings and giving advice. A local monitoring team investigated ceasefire violations and outbreaks of conflict. But the local monitoring team, as a mechanism to avoid open conflict, stopped being effective in 2001 when then president Joseph Estrada launched an all-out war against separatists. There was therefore no mechanism to halt ongoing clashes that have killed more than 200 men and displaced more than 200,000 residents. Libya's ambassador to Manila, Salem Adam, told the South China Morning Post the MILF now insisted the OIC be part of a new mechanism to monitor peace in the south. He said the rebel leaders' mistrust of the government had deepened with the military attack and capture of their enclave in Buliok town, North Cotabato, in central Mindanao. Quoting rebel leaders, Mr Adam said it was 'really very important to them as a trust factor' for Libya and Malaysia to join the monitoring team. He said the mechanism was disclosed in a recent meeting between Foreign Secretary Blas Ople and 15 ambassadors of OIC member states. Mr Ople had told them he 'welcomed' the idea. But he had said this would first have to be taken up by the president's cabinet oversight committee for internal security, which includes top defence and security officials. The country's experience with foreign intervention in peace talks has proven fruitful. It resulted in the biggest rebel group, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), signing a peace agreement with the government in 1996. Libya and Indonesia had played a key role. Mr Adam said the separatists were now putting their trust in the Muslim nations to look after their interests. 'The Philippine government looks at the OIC . . . at least as a good ally,' he said. 'The OIC countries will never support any group or any move for independence to dismember the country.' Mr Adam disclosed that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had met separatist leaders led by chairman Hashim Salamat in Tripoli last June. 'He advised them to accept to be part of the republic,' the ambassador said. He said Colonel Gaddafi had warned them that any move towards independence would result in the same catastrophic war that befell Eastern Europe. Mr Adam said: 'When a small elite group of Muslims in those areas tried to dismember the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, thousands of Muslims were massacred.' Despite such a warning, Colonel Gaddafi observed that Mr Salamat continued to dream of a separate Islamic state, the ambassador said. 'I think he's totally wrong,' Mr Adam said. 'I consider Salamat sometimes a hard-liner who is still suspicious about the government's sincerity.' He described Murad Ebrahim, MILF's vice-chairman for military affairs and chief peace negotiator, as 'a moderate who is really for peace'. What complicates the peace process is the outstanding warrants of arrest against the top leaders and the government's threat to brand them a terrorist group because of alleged links with the Jemaah Islamiah, al-Qaeda and the local Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.