Signing Ceremony with MILF Put Off

Article excerpt

CYBERJAYA, Malaysia (AP) - A ceasefire ceremony between the Philippine government and Muslim separatist rebels was postponed Monday, minutes before negotiators were to have initialed the pact.

Negotiators denied that there was any breakdown in their efforts to end decades of fighting in the southern Philippines and said talks would continue during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's three-day state visit to Malaysia starting Tuesday.

But both sides said there was no guarantee - and no deadline -for the talks to finish before she leaves Thursday.

The sticking points were unclear.

Rebel negotiator Ben Kadil said that the rebels had submitted draft terms of agreement to the government team on security aspects of a cease-fire, but had not received a response in time for the 6 p.m. (1000 GMT) initialing ceremony scheduled by Malaysia's Foreign Ministry, which has brokered two weeks of talks.

"This is not a setback," Kadil said. "We just cannot get it ready yet."

A ballroom had been set up for the event, to have been presided by Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, complete with refreshments and a banner proclaiming the inking of the agreement.

Jesus Dureza, the chief government negotiator, told reporters that there were "no obstacles."

"We just have to finish working on some of the provisions," Dureza said. "We want cease-fire mechanics that will work on the ground. That's why it's not a simple task."

"There's no condition that we have to reach an agreement just because our president is coming," Dureza said. "It's just coincidental."

In Manila, the presidential palace said no statement was planned. …