KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The Philippine government and a Muslim separatist group engaged in a decades-long rebellion hope to sign an interim peace agreement in coming months, a Malaysian official facilitating peace talks said Thursday.

The proposed plan commits both sides to work on a peace deal after a new government is elected to ensure talks will not be derailed after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leaves office in June, said Othman Abdul Razak, the facilitator for the Malaysia-hosted talks in Kuala Lumpur.

"The Manny Pacquiao Blog". Click here for stories and updates on the Filipino boxing champ.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) proposed setting up task forces to cement cooperation on issues such as constitutional legislation, financing and infrastructure, Othman said.

The 11,000-strong separatist group has been fighting for self rule in the Mindanao region for decades. More than 120,000 people have died in repeated clashes with government troops, and the conflict has held back economic progress in some of the Philippines' poorest regions.

The Philippine government negotiators had "very positive" responses to the separatist group's proposals and would consult Manila before making a decision, Othman said.

"There is some optimism that we can have an interim agreement before President Arroyo leaves office," he said. "It is not a comprehensive deal, but it is better than nothing. This is important for the process of building trust and preserving gains."

Officials have said a comprehensive peace deal is no longer possible under the current government given the time constraint.

Government officials and the rebels resumed talks in January after years of peace negotiations broke down in 2008 when the Philippine Supreme Court declared a preliminary pact unconstitutional.

This led to clashes that killed hundreds and displaced about 750,000 people. Fighting has subsided since last July, but about 100,000 people remain displaced, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A Malaysian-led peacekeeping contingent — deployed until 2007 — returned to the region last week to help prevent clashes and bolster the peace talks. The monitors will be deployed in three southern cities to prevent any conflict from escalating.

Representatives of Malaysia to the multinational peacekeeping contingent, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) that will monitor the ceasefire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), will arrive on Friday via special plane at Awang Airport in Maguindanao to resume their task.

The contingent will form part of the International Monitoring Team 5 (IMT-5) to be composed of police and military officers from Malaysia, Brunei and Libya and two civilian rehabilitation specialists from Japan.

Japan has already agreed to join again the IMT with the receipt by government peace panel and MILF peace panel of an official communication letter from the Embassy of Japan in Manila.

The IMT-4 left Mindanao in November 2008 after the government and MILF peace panels suspended talks due to hostilities following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional.

Unlike before, the IMT has four components for monitoring: Security, socio-economic, rehabilitation, and civilian protection. Malaysia leads the security monitoring; Japan the socio-economic; the European Union is supposed to lead rehabilitation but has not yet responded officially; while civilian protection is yet to be decided by the Parties which country among the current members of the IMT is nominated.

The monitoring has one main purpose: To create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility on the ground while the peace negotiation is being conducted across the negotiating table. Once the peace talks stall or collapse, the return of the IMT will become imminent. (AP/Sunnex)