President Benigno S. Aquino III exchanges pleasantries with His Excellency Dato Sri Mohd Najib Bin Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia,during the Small Group Meeting for his Official Visit to the Republic of the Philippines at the Music Room, Malacañan Palace on Monday (October 15, 2012). The two leaders discussed the political, economic and defense and security cooperation between the Philippines and Malaysia. This is the first visit of PM Najib to the Philippines since he assumed office in 2009. He is accompanied by his spouse, Datin Paduka Seri Rosmah Mansor. Malaysia is considered as one of the country’s important partners, the 7th largest export market and 8th largest import market of the Philippines. President Aquino and Prime Minister Najib will witness the historic signing of the Framework Agreement of the Bangsamoro between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GPH) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Malaysia has been the third party Facilitator of the GPH-MILF peace talks since 2001 and the head of the International Monitoring Team since 2004. (MNS photo)

MANILA, Oct 15, 2012 (AFP) – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged Monday to support economic development in the conflict-wracked and impoverished southern Philippines after helping to broker a peace plan with Muslim rebels.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino met Najib for one-on-one talks ahead of the planned signing of the peace roadmap with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Manila, a joint statement said after their meeting.

“The Malaysian government affirmed its support to the Philippine government’s sustained socio-economic programmes, which are designed to foster further economic opportunities and jobs in Mindanao,” the statement said.

“They also urged Malaysian and other foreign businessmen to consider investing in palm oil, natural rubber, halal industry, infrastructure and other sectors in the region.”

Muslim rebel groups have been fighting for full independence or autonomy since the 1970s in Mindanao, which they claim as their ancestral homeland.

The insurgency has left more than 150,000 people dead, with most of the lives lost at the height of the conflict in the early 1970s when an all-out war raged.

Malaysia has hosted on-again, off-again peace talks between the MILF and the Philippine government since 2001. It has also deployed troops to head an international peace mission monitoring a truce between the opposing sides.

Under the peace framework, the 12,000-strong MILF will drop its bid for independence in exchange for an autonomous region by 2016, where they will have power to levy their own taxes and get a share of profits from its resources.

But sceptics have said the peace plan would not guarantee an immediate end to the conflict, even as foreign governments led by the United States and some business groups welcomed it.

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