Clinton urges Philippines, Muslim rebels to cut peace deal

Clinton urges Philippines, Muslim rebels to cut peace dealManila  - US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Friday urged the Philippine government and Muslim separatist rebels to conclude a peace deal before the end of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's term next year.

Clinton said the expiry of Arroyo's eight-year term in June was an impetus for the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to push harder to reach a final peace agreement.

"It would be important to get this done because you don't want to start all over again," she told a televised forum with students before ending her two-day visit in Manila.

"Strike while the iron is hot is an old saying. When people are in the mood and willing to make peace, do not sleep, do not rest until you finally get there," she added.

Clinton said the United States was ready to help in any way it could to support the peace negotiations to bring stability in the southern region of Mindanao.

"There's going to be a resumption of meetings in Kuala Lumpur starting next week, so that's what we want to focus on," she said. "The conditions for peace are ripe. People really want to see it and I hope no one misses this opportunity."

But she stressed that any peace deal must be within the constitution and the laws of the Philippines, otherwise, "that would be creating more problems."

Clinton said she believed Arroyo was "fully prepared" to make tough decisions in the peace talks with the MILF.

"I think the president is committed, she wants to see this done," she said. "It's easier to make these difficult decisions when you are on your way out of the office because you know what's at stake and you are willing to brave the political fires."

Peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF have been stalled since August 2008 after the scrapping of a key territory agreement that would have expanded the coverage and control of an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.

The agreement on ancestral domain was nixed due to strong opposition, triggering renewed fighting that killed more than 300 people and displaced at least 500,000 at the height of the hostilities.  (dpa)