The Philippine government expects to resettle all internally displaced persons (IDPs) on Mindanao island this year, amid high expectations for peace talks with Muslim separatist rebels.
Negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are to resume in January in Kuala Lumpur, with the Malaysian government a crucial third-party negotiator trusted by both sides, Marvic Leonen, Manila's chief negotiator with the MILF, told IRIN.
Malaysia sent a top-level mission to meet Philippine President Benigno Aquino as well as his peace advisers in December, during which they expressed their commitment to help the mostly Catholic nation resolve its internal conflict, Leonen said.
"We want to accomplish a politically negotiated settlement within the soonest possible time, so that we can implement this within the next six-year period," Leonen said, adding that he was upbeat that such an agreement ending the MILF's 33-year insurgency would be signed "within the year".
"We see that as a viable timeframe," he said.
The 12,000-strong MILF has fought for an independent Islamic state since 1978, and the insurgency has left many parts of the impoverished, but resource-rich, island in desperate poverty and tens of thousands of families periodically fleeing their homes.
In August 2008, the MILF broke a five-year ceasefire after the Philippines' highest court declared unconstitutional a proposed deal with the government that would have given them control over 700 towns and villages, triggering clashes that left nearly 400 combatants and civilians dead.
Of the more than 750,000 people displaced at the height of the crisis, about 60,000 remain in evacuation centres in the south or are staying with family and friends, the government says.
Talks "on track"
Aquino's chief adviser on the peace process, Teresita Deles, said that with the peace talks on track, the government was expecting to end the IDP situation within a year.
"A politically negotiated settlement will lead us [to] channel our energies to addressing justice, lasting peace and sustainable development in the area," she said.
"We are working on different approaches, one of which is to strengthen peace-building, reconstruction and development in conflict-affected areas."
Leonen said other issues that had earlier threatened to derail the talks had been resolved, but did not give any specific details. The MILF had accused the government of insincerity for arresting a top rebel leader, and of trying to replace a Malaysian peace broker that Manila had accused of being biased towards the rebels.
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