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Philippine Muslim rebels say peace talks still on
Government, Muslim rebels say Philippine peace talks still on despite differences
By The Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) ' The Philippine government and Muslim rebels said Friday peace talks have not broken down even though rebel negotiators oppose a government plan for autonomy in the country's south.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front Chairman Murad Ebrahim said "the negotiation is still on."

He said the group's central committee has not yet decided on the negotiators' recommendation to reject the proposal for autonomy. The rebels want a substate.

Chief government negotiator Marvic Leonen said the proposal was a starting point and "we are ready, willing and able to negotiate."

The government is waiting for the rebels to respond to its call to meet again this month, he added.

Murad said the rebels' peace panel found the proposal disconnected to previous agreements and it would bring 14 years of talks back to zero.

"Even if we reject the proposal then the government can still make another proposal," Murad said on the Front's website. He said he was confident officials would realize it is the best way to move the peace process forward.

Leonen assured that the government was adhering to its obligations under the ceasefire agreement and "there will be no provocation on the part of government troops."

The rebels earlier gave up their demand for a separate state and said they were willing to work with the government on protecting Muslims' rights in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

Hopes for a breakthrough were raised after a historic meeting in Japan last month between Murad and President Benigno Aquino III. But it was followed by the rebel negotiators' rejection of the government's plan.

Friday's comments sought to allay fears the talks are headed for collapse.

Leonen said government has limited its offer to what can be delivered within Aquino's remaining 4 years and 10 months in office and will not require a change in the constitution.

It includes partnering with rebels to bring social services and economic development to the region, one of the country's poorest.

It also includes political settlement under a peace accord that will create a commission representing government, the rebels and other groups to be decided by the two sides. The commission will oversee implementation of the peace pact and will make proposals that the executive branch will bring to the legislature.

A third component would be to settle animosity and retell the history of the Muslims people's struggle.

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