For 12 painful years the Philippine government has tried to bring an end to a bloody separatist insurgency in the south, with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ramping up efforts recently to secure a peace deal as part of her legacy. Now, hopes of a pact have been dented yet again after Muslim rebels claimed responsibility for the deaths of 23 troops in a bloody battle last week. Until the latest bout of violence, it seemed Mrs Arroyo had been making headway to achieving a resolution. Last month, she unilaterally announced a ceasefire and called for the resumption of peace talks. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) responded with its own ceasefire and both sides met on July 29. Those discussions were scheduled to continue today in Kuala Lumpur. But as of yesterday 'no schedule has been sent to us and normally we leave two days before the meeting,' chief rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said. Today's meeting would have discussed 'a framework agreement to protect non-combatants' including refugees, and the formation of an International Contact Group, an advisory body of foreign figures such as former British prime minister Tony Blair, Mr Iqbal said. But fighting last week on Basilan Island that led to the deaths of 23 soldiers and 10 rebels seems to have put paid to the latest round of talks. Accusing the rebels of treachery, National Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said that months ago the military had planned a surprise attack on a lair of the Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf on Basilan Island, which happened to be near the MILF stronghold. 'Before the assault, our commander on the ground had prior co-ordination with the MILF leadership and was assured its forces would be standing down,' Mr Teodoro said. Senate defence committee chairman Rodolfo Biazon said that as result of troops' deaths, 'there should be a suspension of the resumption of peace talks until we are able to put together a new position on how to deal with the MILF, even before a formal final agreement is entered into, so that we may be able to fix responsibilities if there is going to be any violation of the pre-agreement'. But the rebel leadership yesterday claimed that they were provoked into attacking the soldiers. 'It is not true that the Armed Forces of the Philippines especially the marines co-ordinated their military operation against the Abu Sayyaf group with the MILF. Why would they co-ordinate when the MILF was also the target?' a statement said. Iqbal said there hd not been prior co-ordination. What happened was that one of their senior officials, Hassan Namla, had received a call from Carlos Sol, who heads the government ceasefire committee secretariat, 'five hours after the firefight' started. Mr Sol had asked Namla to try to find a way to stop the fighting but Namla had told him it was the soldiers attacking the rebels, not the other way around. Both sides have also accused each others' forces of mutilating those killed. The latest incident has again cast the rebels in a negative light, making a final peace agreement more difficult. Yesterday, the rebels claimed they were the real targets of the government's military operations in Basilan. Why, they asked, had the government 'brought in more than 1,000 troops and all their firepower to run after the less than 70 Abu Sayyaf group forces?' Despite this, Iqbal remained hopeful an agreement could be forged, if not with this government, then with the next. The breakaway rebel group has gained a long-desired recognition by the international community by talking peace with the government. A landmark deal on territory was scuttled by the Supreme Court last year, but it has become a framework by which to negotiate a final deal.