Thursday, February 28, 2013

CPP-NPA at its weakest -- AFP official

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): CPP-NPA at its weakest -- AFP official

“The CPP-NPA is at the weakest point.” Thus said 3rd Infantry (Spearhead) Division commander Maj. Gen. Jose Mabanta Jr. in a press dispatch yesterday.

Mabanta said the series of evident infighting shows disunity and significant leadership and conflicts within the organization. "The state of discipline and training is also deteriorating among its ranks, aside from the fact that they already lack credible leaders," Mabanta added.

The 3ID commander, which has the over-all jurisdiction on all military units operating throughout Negros island including those at Siquijor island, said the NPA infighting is also a result of the ‘tug-of-war’ for resources due to waning extortion proceeds.

Since extortion has been an income-generating activity of the different factions of NPA, they end up killing each other because one group would want to dominate the other.

He said the military’s successful Bayanihan peace and development operations and the united support of local government units, non-government organizations, private companies and other stakeholders in Negros and Panay is gaining grounds.

Mabanta added: “The NPA is losing its mass base and the recent arrest of one of its key leaders in Negros Occidental will serve as a lesson to other members to surrender, embrace the peace and join the mainstream of society.”

Gapuz assumes as 6th ID chief

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Gapuz assumes as 6th ID chief

Major General Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo, commander of the 6th Infantry Division, the military's biggest Army unit in Central Mindanao, has relinquished his post to Brigadier General Romeo Gapuz in a turn over ceremonies here Thursday.

Ordoyo, who belongs to Class '80 of the Philippine Military Academy, will assume as division commander of the Southern Luzon Command.

Gapuz, former commander of the 4th Infantry Division in Northern Mindanao, graduated from the PMA in 1980. Ordoyo handed over the military division unit which he nurtured into an "Army Division of Peacekeepers."

Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes, commanding general of the Philippine Army, led the symbolic change of command at the parade ground of the Camp Siongco, the 6th ID’s command center in Barangay Awang, Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao.

Ordoyo was very grateful for the support extended him by the officers and men of the "Kampilan" division. He said the command has been very supportive of the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The 6th ID area of coverage are the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat where most of the MILF forces have been operating.

"I salute all of you," he told the 6th ID officers and enlisted men, adding that the soldiers have a very huge roles to play in the desire of the national leadership to attain peace in Mindanao.

Ordoyo also urged Gapuz to continue the 6th ID’s simple way of helping build confidence among soldiers and Moro rebels on the ground.

During President Aquino's historic visit to the MILF territories "to bring government closer to the Bangsamoro people," Ordoyo organized a fluvial peace caravan involving Moro bancas and motorboats to show support for the GPH-MILF peace process.

After the fluvial parade, Ordoyo and his men organized a friendly football match between the soldiers and Moro rebels which was witnessed by the President.

It was part of the 6th ID’s confidence-building measures with the rebel group, both the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and MILF.

For his part, Gapuz said he will continue the peace efforts of his predecessors, including those of former 6th ID commanders Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara who is now the deputy chief of staff and Major Gen. Rey Ardo, now Western Mindanao Command chief.

Gapuz also vowed to adhere to the Armed Forces’ principles of accountability and transparency in handling the fiscal and logistical resources of the 6th ID.

“I will continue the peace efforts of my predecessors and will toe MalacaƱang’s line in pushing the peace process forward,” Gapuz told soldiers and guests.

His priority is the continuation of the soldiers' religious observance of the GPH-MILF ceasefire agreement which, he learned, improve the peace and order situation of the 6th ID AOR.

To the 6th ID commanders and subordinates, Gapuz said his policy is simple. "Do good and you will be rewarded, do bad and you will be punished," he told soldiers.

Present during the turn over rites were local officials from Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

GPH, MILF sign AnnexTransitional Arrangements and Modalities at 36th exploratory talks

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): GPH, MILF sign AnnexTransitional Arrangements and Modalities at 36th exploratory talks

The Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) panels signed late night Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur the first of four Annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The Annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities (TAM), signed at the end of the 36th round Formal Exploratory Talks, “details the road map towards the creation of the Bangsamoro” region.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) said the GPH and MILF also signed the Terms of Reference for the Independent Commission on Policing (ICP) prepared by the Transitional Working Group (TWG) on Normalization.

The ICP will submit recommendations to the peace panels on the appropriate form, structures and relationships of the police force for the Bangsamoro.

Signing for the government was Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, GPH panel chair, while Mohagher Iqbal MILF panel chair, signed for the MILF.  Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, the Malaysian facilitator for the talks, witnessed the signing.

The GPH and MILF will continue their discussions on the Annexes on Wealth Sharing and Power Sharing to resolve the remaining issues. In their joint statement, the two parties likewise discussed the composition of the Third Party Monitoring Team, the body that will review, assess, evaluate and monitor the implementation of the FAB and its Annexes.

The Parties welcomed the appointment of all the members of the Transition Commission as envisioned by the FAB and provided for by Executive Order 120. They acknowledged the important role of the Transition Commission and look forward to its success.

The parties expressed their appreciation to President Benigno Simeon Aquino III for his unwavering commitment to a just and lasting peace in Mindanao and to Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak for his continued support in the facilitation of the GPH-MILF Peace Talks, and to the members of the MILF Central Committee headed by Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim for their untiring commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Bangsamoro Question.

They also extended their gratitude to the members of the International Contact Group (ICG), namely Japan, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Republic of Turkey, the United Kingdom, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), Conciliation Resources (CR), Muhammadiyah, and The Asia Foundation (TAF).

The GPH and MILF expressed profound gratitude to CHD’s Mr. David Gorman for his active participation since the inception of the ICG in 2009, and his valuable contributions to the GPH-MILF peace process.

Abu Sayyaf member with P1.3-M bounty nabbed in Zamboanga City

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): Abu Sayyaf member with P1.3-M bounty nabbed in Zamboanga City

Government authorities arrested an Abu Sayyaf member with a P1.3-million bounty on his head at a hospital in this southern port city, a police official disclosed Thursday.

Police Regional Office-9 (PRO-9) spokesman Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca identified the suspect as Mujinar Cabalo, who uses the aliases Mujin Kabala, Aman Kabalu, Ramin and Rahim.

Huesca disclosed Cabalo was arrested by policemen around 9:02 p.m. Monday at a private hospital along Mayor Vitaliano Agan Avenue. Cabalo was rushed to the hospital by his family because of a heart ailment, Huesca said.

He said that Cabalo was arrested on the strength of a warrant of arrest issued by Regional Trail Court (RTC) Branch 23 Judge Rogelio Narisma of Kidapawan City.

Huesca said the arrested bandit faces criminal charges for murder, multiple frustrated murder and multiple attempted murder, with a monetary reward of P1.3 million for his arrest. “The accused is now under hospital arrest,” he added.

NPA medic surrenders, says family more important than revolution

From the Philippine News Agency (Feb 28): NPA medic surrenders, says family more important than revolution

Nothing can really matched the love and sense of togetherness given by being with one's family.

A New People's Army (NPA) medic surrendered to military authorities at Barangay Del Pilar, Cabadbaran City,Agusan Del Norte after rediscovering this ancient saying last Feb. 25.

The ex-rebel is a member of the NPA's North Eastern Mindanao Regional Committee and a trusted aide of "Ka Kenny", the commander of Guerilla Front 19.

The former said that she decided to return to the government fold after seeing the futility of her group's action and inability to help her family deal with their poverty.

The ex-rebel also cited her pregnancy as one the reasons for giving up the armed struggle. She also cited that she does not want her child to grow up in violent and disorderly surroundings hence her decision to give herself up to the Army's 402nd Infantry Brigade.

“We are once again calling all other NPAs to also give your family a chance to enjoy a peaceful life. By now, your family needs you to help them in their everyday living, to be with them in times of hardships and pains, in joys and happiness, and to be with them praying for a peaceful country,” 402nd Infantry Brigade commander Col. Crescente Q. Maligmat said.

Terms for Moro police commission OKd

From Rappler (Feb 28): Terms for Moro police commission OKd

The issue of policing has been considered the most contentious aspect of the Framework Agreement for the Bangsamoro. After all, this involves complex problems related to maintaining peace and order in Muslim provinces in Mindanao.

To provide a framework for the future structure of the Bangsamoro police force, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed under the Framework Agreement to form an Independent Commission on Policing (ICP), which will submit recommendations on how the relationship between the Philippine National Police and Bangsamoro police should work.
The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Wednesday, February 27, signed the terms of reference for the ICP during the 36th round of peace talks.
According to the document, the ICP will be composed of 7 members, with each side selecting:
  • 1 local expert
  • 1 representative
  • 1 international expert
The chairperson will be selected by both parties.
Under its terms of reference, the ICP will not only provide "equal access to security and justice for all members of society" but also promote inclusiveness, as well as transparency and accountability.
The ICP is mandated to submit its final report within 6 months from its first meeting.

Sultan infuriates PH, Malaysia

From Rappler (Feb 28): Sultan infuriates PH, Malaysia

DEFIANT SULTAN. Jamalul Kiram III is challenging both the Philippine government and the Malaysian security forces in Sabah

DEFIANT SULTAN. Jamalul Kiram III is challenging both the Philippine government and the Malaysian security forces in Sabah

From a dirty plastic chair in a rundown district of the Philippine capital, an ailing man claiming to be the head of an ancient Muslim dynasty whispers defiant decrees that infuriate a president.

Jamalul Kiram III, who insists he is the genuine "Sultan of Sulu", emerged from political obscurity this month after a few dozen of his armed followers sailed to neighbouring Malaysia to stake an ancestral territorial claim.

The gunmen took control of a small coastal village in Sabah state on Borneo island, triggering a standoff with Malaysian security forces that has yet to be resolved and deeply embarrassing Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

Although he is weak from kidney disease that needs twice-weekly dialysis, Kiram, 74, insists he is willing to take on the Philippine and Malaysian governments to assert his family's claim to resource-rich Sabah.

Speaking in a voice barely above a whisper, he tells reporters who gather daily at his modest two-storey home that his "royal army" will never abandon Sabah.

"If they have to die, then they will die. They are sacrificing (themselves) for whatever may happen," he said this week after Aquino ordered Kiram to withdraw his men back to their southern Philippine island homes.

Nostalgia of Sulu's past glory

Kiram's house in Manila is festooned with banners proclaiming the "Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo," with a coat of arms showing two crossed swords, informing visitors on the pot-holed street that they are in royal territory.

Kiram speaks nostalgically of the Sulu sultanate's glory days before European colonisation, when it ruled over Sabah and large parts of the southern Philippines.
The Kirams say they are descended from the prophet Muhammad, through a Mecca-born Arab who travelled to Southeast Asia.

The sultanate boasts that, in centuries past, it had active relations with other Asian kingdoms and even with China's Ming dynasty, while dominating the Sulu Sea with a powerful navy.

But the sultanate lost much of its influence to European colonial powers, officially losing Sabah in 1878 via a loosely worded contract to a British trading company that paved the way for it to be part of Malaysian territory. Sabah has prospered under Malaysia.

The remote islands of Sulu are however now among the poorest parts of the Philippines, home to insurgents that continue to wage rebellion against the government while dreaming of an independent Muslim homeland.

Sultan wants share of Sabah's riches

Kiram is comfortable with the sultanate remaining part of the Philippines, but he says he sent his men into Malaysia so that his family and the national government's claims to Sabah will be recognised.

The Philippine government has never renounced its claim to Sabah, however Aquino and previous governments have not challenged Malaysia over the issue, preferring instead to pursue warm bilateral relations.

Although Kiram and his advisers insist money is not the motivation for their incursion into Malaysia, they have also signalled the "royal army" would stand down if the sultanate was given a greater share of the riches of Sabah.

Under the agreement in 1878 that saw the sultanate lose Sabah, Malaysia continues to give the Kiram family a nominal compensation payment of about 70,000 pesos ($1700) a year.

"The fare for a hired (pedicab) is even higher than their payment," Kiram said.
Since the 1960s, Kiram has largely lived in Manila -- about 900 kilometres (560 miles) from the strife-torn Sulu islands -- from where he has been able to look after his business interests.

Kiram said he owned large tracts of rice and coconut plantations, and he has a wide following among the local residents in Sulu.

He lost in his sole foray into national politics when he ran for the Senate in 2007 under the party of then-president Gloria Arroyo, who now stands accused of massive corruption during her time in power.

Kiram said he ran on her ticket to better establish his credentials to the title of Sultan of Sulu, amid a bewildering array of competing claims.

Who's the 'real' sultan?

Aquino, seeking to pressure Kiram into submission, told reporters this week that the Sabah issue was clouded by questions as to who was the real sultan.

"They have at least five people who are claiming to be the Sultan of Sulu. So that is one of my first problems: who actually represents the Sultanate of Sulu?" Aquino said.
The Sulu provincial government lists on its website that one of Kiram's brothers is the sultan.

Ibrahim Bahjin, a doctor based in the southern Philippines, also insists he is the real sultan.

"All the brothers and nephews have been fighting for the sultanate. We belong to different royal houses. But I was proclaimed paramount sultan in 2004," he told AFP by phone.

RULERS OF SULU. Sulu Royal Family official seal in graphic by Dave Salazar,-malaysia

Gapuz takes over Army division in Central Mindanao

From the Philippine  Star (Feb 28): Gapuz takes over Army division in Central Mindanao

Major Gen. Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo (left) and his successor, Brig. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, incoming commander of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, salute at each other during Thursday's turn over rites officiated by Philippine Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes (middle). JOHN UNSON

Brig. Gen. Romeo Gapuz on Thursday took over the Philippine Army's 6th Infantry Division from Maj. Gen. Caesar Ronnie Ordoyo, who has been promoted as chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Southern Luzon Command.

Gapuz, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy Class 1981, is leaving the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Noel Coballes led the symbolic change of command at the parade grounds of Camp Siongco, the 6th ID’s command center in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao.

Ordoyo said he is grateful to the soldiers of the 6th Infantry Division for supporting his peace overtures with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in support of President Benigno Aquino III’s Southern Mindanao peace process.

He urged Gapuz to continue the 6th ID’s low-level confidence-building maneuvers aimed at enhancing the cordiality of the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

While he was the Army division's commander, Ordoyo worked with Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu in organizing a fluvial peace caravan involving dozens of boats, through the Butilen-Tamontaka River, which straddles through the border of Maguindanao and Cotabato City, to show support to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) signed Oct. 15, 2012.

The FAB, which has four annexes – territory; wealth-and-power sharing; normalization and transitional modalities – that have been signed by the government and the MILF, aims to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao with a self-governing Bangsamoro political entity.

Ordoyo also spearheaded last February 11, in the presence of President Aquino, a football match between Moro athletes and soldiers at the football field of Camp Siongco.

The event was part of the 6th Infantry Division’s confidence-building measures with the rebel group.

Gapuz, meanwhile, assured that he will continue Ordoyo's peace efforts.

He also vowed to adhere to the AFP's principles of accountability and transparency in handling the fiscal and logistical resources of the 6th Infantry Division, which has jurisdiction over Central Mindanao.

“I shall continue the peace maneuvers of my predecessors with the MILF and the 6th ID, under me, will toe MalacaƱang’s line in pushing the peace process forward,” Gapuz said.

He said he will support the peace process and exercise his authority in seeing to it that all units of the division will continue to abide with the government’s 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities with the MILF.

Top NPA leader arrested in Bohol

From the Philippine Star (Feb 28): Top NPA leader arrested in Bohol

Combined government security forces on Tuesday arrested in Bohol a top New People’s Army (NPA) leader in Central Visayas.

Arrested for illegal possession of firearms was Ruben Nabas, who is also known as Ka Ebyong, Ka Elmer, Ka Padi and Ka Rex in the underground movement.

Nabas was arrested by policemen and Army soldiers manning a checkpoint at Barangay Catbigian in Bohol province.

Capt. Cresencio Gargar, spokesman of the Philippines Army's 302nd infantry Brigade based in Tanjay City, Negros Oriental, said that Nabas is the overall head of the NPA’s Special Partisan Unit (SPARU) in Central Visayas.

Gargar said that Nabas was wth his security aide, Cristituto Lastomen alias Ka Onyot, when he was arrested.

Seized from the two suspects were a .45 pistol, a 9mm pistol, P18,200 in cash and several documents of alleged high intelligence value.

 Gargar said that aside from illegal possession of firearms charges, Nabas also has a standing warrant of arrest for rebellion before the Regional Trial Court Branch 63 in Bayawan City, Negros Oriental.

The military said that Nabas was a vice commander of the elite NPA force operating in the hinterlands of southern Negros Oriental before he moved up as head of the NPAs’ liquidation unit in Central Visayas.

Nabas reportedly led his men in attacking two police camps in Bohol in 1999 where the rebels carted away high-powered firearms.

He was also tagged as the leader of an NPA band that bombed two newly-constructed transmission line towers of the National Grid Corporation at Barangay Sta. Catalina, Sagbayan, Bohol and at Barangay Sto. Nino, San Miguel town also in the province.

The military added that several witnesses also identified Nabas as the triggerman of Chief Inspector Pelecio Domino, police chief of Talibon, Bohol.

Meanwhile, an eight-month pregnant amazon has abandoned the armed struggle and surrendered to Army authorities in Agusan del Norte.

Accompanied by her husband, who is also serving as an NPA courier, 18-year-old Ka Dimple presented herself to Army authorities at Barangay Del Pilar Cabadbaran City on Monday.

Lt. Col. Pontenciano Camba, commander of the 3rd Special Forces battalion, is withholding the true identify of Ka Dimple for the time being until she and her family are finally secured.

Camba said that Ka Dimple was as a note taker (secretary) to an NPA commander and a medic to the rebel movement.

He said security will be provided for Ka Dimple and her husband as well as for their families.

'Order followers home then we can talk' - Palace to Kiram

From InterAksyon (Feb 28): 'Order followers home then we can talk' - Palace to Kiram

Malacanang on Thursday said Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III must first order his followers home from Sabah before President Benigno Aquino III agrees to talk to him, urging him not to waste the “golden opportunity.”

"They want to see the President. They want to talk to the President and the President said: ‘You come home, let’s defuse the situation, let’s try to avoid bloodshed, and we will talk’," Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a briefing aired over state-run Radyo ng Bayan on Thursday.

Close to 200 of the sultan’s followers, led by his brother Raja Muda Agbimuddin Kiram, occupied the village of Tanduo in Lahad Datu town in a bid to press their claim on Sabah and have since been engaged in a standoff with Malaysian security forces.
Lacierda called Kiram’s demand for negotiations before ordering his followers home "unreasonable."

"Assuming for the sake of argument (that) we will talk to them while they don’t leave Sabah. We will talk to the Malaysians and the Malaysians will not agree to what the Kirams want, do we have a guarantee they will come back (to Sulu)? There is no guarantee," Lacierda said.

In a radio interview from Sabah, Kiram's brother insisted they had broken no law since the territory has historically and legally belonged to Sulu.

"We are not bad -- we are good people. We are law-abiding citizens. We came here to live in our place. That's not a crime," he said.

"We did not come to make war, we just came to live in our own place. If the problem is we bring guns with us, these are for our protection," he added.

Earlier this week, after saying he had ordered the creation of a panel to study the Sabah issue, Aquino ordered the investigation of Kiram and his followers for possible violations of the Constitution and of the Revised Penal Code.

Sulu sultan urges Aquino not to belittle Sabah claim

From InterAksyon (Feb 28): Sulu sultan urges Aquino not to belittle Sabah claim

Princess Jacel Kiram reads the statement of her father, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III at their home in Maharlika Village, Taguig city. (photo by Bernard Testa,

Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III on Thursday called on President Benigno Aquino III to stop describing their claim to Sabah as “foolhardy” as he wondered if Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II was acting as “spokesperson of Malaysia.”

He also dismissed government insinuations that his family had been prodded by other parties to press the Sabah claim by sending followers to occupy a village in Lahad Datu town.

“I, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III pledges on our Holy Koran that this aspiration to fight for what is rightfully ours, legally and historically, is a unilateral act of the Sultanate of Sulu. This I pledge in the name of the Almighty Allah,” he said in a statement read by his daughter, Princess Jacel Kiram, at a press briefing in their Maharlika Village home in Taguig City.

Kiram also asked Justice Secretary de Lima not to “insult the sacrifice of the Sultanate of Sulu by saying ‘kaya kaming sulsulan’ (we can be prodded).”

De Lima has been ordered by Aquino to lead the investigation into possible violations of the Constitution by Kiram and his followers.

The princess also questioned what she called the government’s disinterest in supporting their claim to Sabah when it provides “diplomatic support” to overseas Filipino workers arrested or convicted of crimes abroad.

In his statement, the sultan pointed told that, “the claim to Sabah is an important issue. Please stop belittling the issue by calling it ‘foolhardy’.”

“Why are you calling it foolhardy?” he asked. “Is it foolhardy to defend the patrimony of your nation? Is it foolhardy to fight for what is right? Is it foolhardy to sacrifice the lives of 235 people for the sake of truth?”

On Wednesday, Kiram had also lashed out at Aquino for ordering an investigation into possible violations of the Constitution by the sultan and his followers soon after he had ordered the creation of a panel to study the Sabah claim.

“How can we trust them (government) in that case?” Kiram asked.

In his statement, Kiram said his family’s decision to “uphold the truth and fight for (our) right to claim North Borneo did not cause any threat to the government.”

He also asked if Roxas, in saying earlier that Malaysia had no intention in negotiating with the sultanate, “is … now the spokesperson of Malaysia.”

At this point, Princess Jacel broke off from reading and said the issue raised against Roxas “is much more important because it addresses national patrimony. Secretary Roxas, kaninong interes ba ang inyong pinagsisilbihan, interes ng mamamayang Pilipino o interes ng dayuhan (whose interests do you serve, the interests of the Filipino people or the interests of foreigners)?”

“Is it hard for the Philippines and Malaysia to sit down and talk to us and settle this amicably?” Kiram asked. “Why are we talking to media? Why are we expressing our views in the media? Is it (not) easier for … us to talk officially? It seems that there is fear to talk to us officially. Why?”

Responding to reporters’ questions after reading the statement, Princess Jacel explained that “there is no official ruler of the sultanate” as she appealed to those discussing the Sabah issue to “study their history because they don’t know what they are saying.”

When sought for reaction to the government’s request for Malaysia to extend its deadline for her father’s followers to leave Sabah, the princess replied: "Wala na akong masabi, lagi na lang may (I have nothing more to say, there is always a) deadline."

Govt, Muslim rebels eye final peace deal by April

From InterAksyon (Feb 28): Govt, Muslim rebels eye final peace deal by April

The Philippines and a Muslim separatist group hope to finalize a peace agreement ending a decades-old insurgency by April, a government negotiator said Thursday.

Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are working to put the finishing touches to plans for disarmament and wealth- and power-sharing by March, and deliver a final "comprehensive agreement" in April, Miriam Coronel Ferrer said.

"We are confident. There are only a few issues left. We will find a resolution. There is no deal-breaker here," said Coronel Ferrer, the Philippines' lead negotiator.

She spoke at the conclusion of the latest round of three-day talks between the two sides in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's government agreed in October on a road map with the MILF that aims toward a final peace deal by 2016, following years of talks hosted by Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Coronel Ferrer said a stand-off between Malaysian security forces and a group of Filipinos in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah would not affect the peace process.

Dozens of Filipinos, some reportedly armed, were dispatched there two weeks ago by
 the self-proclaimed heir to a former southern Philippine sultanate to press its traditional claim to Sabah.

Jamalul Kiram III has refused to call back his men, complaining that he was left out of the peace road map agreed in October.

"The talks are driven by the two parties. The talks pertain to issues that have to be settled between the MILF and the Philippine government," Coronel Ferrer said.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for independence in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic Philippines that the country's Muslim minority claim as their ancestral homeland.

An estimated 150,000 people have died in the unrest in the southern Philippines, though a ceasefire in place since 2003 has largely held.