US to help Philippine gov't, rebels reach peace

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Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday said Washington is prepared to help the Philippine government and separatist Muslim rebels reach a final peace agreement in order to end decades of armed conflict in Mindanao.

Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives for a press conference shortly after her arrival in Manila, the Philippines, on Nov. 12, 2009. Clinton on Thursday suggested that Washington is not in favor of terminating the Philippines-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), stressing that the accord is an "important expression of partnership" between the two countries.[Luis Liwanag/Xinhua]

Clinton, who is in Manila for a two-day visit, noted that the U.S. government supports a negotiated peace settlement between the two parties as she encouraged both sides to continue its close engagement.

"The U.S. supports the ongoing efforts of the government of the Philippines to bring comprehensive peace. People have been seeking such a peace and I want the Philippines to know that the international community, including the United States, stands ready to assist but this is ultimately up to the people of the Philippines and to your government leadership," Clinton said in a press conference.

Clinton did not say what specific assistance it will provide the two parties nor did she mention what role Washington intends to play in the peace process.

"We are encouraged by the ceasefire and the report that I received today about the negotiating effort is very promising. So we will wish the very best to those who are attempting to bring it in to the conflict and to support you in any way that is appropriate," Clinton said.

Washington is a major aid donor to impoverished Muslim areas of Mindanao, and U.S. special forces based on the island provide training and intelligence to Philippine troops fighting Islamist militants.

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