KUALA LUMPUR/MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine Muslim rebel negotiators have rejected the government's proposal to end 40 years of conflict in the south of the largely Catholic state, Manila's chief negotiator said on Tuesday.
Marvic Leonen said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) rejection of government's proposal did not mean the peace talks hosted by Malaysia from 2001 had collapsed and that both sides were still open to continue negotiations.
The disagreement, however, puts the brakes on President Beningo Aquino and MILF leader Murad Ebrahim's agreement to fast track the peace process following their secret meeting in a Tokyo hotel on August 4.
"It is not unusual in negotiations for one party of take a hardline position," Leonen told a video conference from the Philippines' embassy in Kuala Lumpur
"The two parties have different positions, otherwise, we will not be negotiating. Our framework is not as they had expected it. They expected something more, they expected the word sub-state," he added.
The 11,000-member MILF seeks a "state within a state" on the southern island of Mindanao as a condition for ending four decades of armed conflict that has stymied development in this poor but resource rich region.
President Benigno Aquino has attempted to expand on the demand with his 20-page proposal for a "more genuine" autonomy that was presented to the Muslim separatist group this week in Kuala Lumpur.
The rebel negotiators said they will recommend to the MILF leadership to reject the proposal but they did not return the document, Leonen said, signaling that the peace process had not reached a stalemate.
"We can't accept a proposal that we think will not address the problems of Muslims in Mindanao," Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, told a television interview from his base in the south.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato in Manila and Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur)