MANILA/KUALA LUMPUR - Negotiators from the Philippine government and the country's largest Muslim rebel group began a fresh round of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, aiming to seal an agreement to end 40 years of conflict in the south of the mainly Catholic state.

A peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) would set up an expanded autonomous area for Muslims on Mindanao island, giving them more political and economic powers including a bigger share in revenues from natural resources and a more active role in internal security.

"The road is not that long, but it's still very hard to tell if we will reach there," Mohagher Iqbal, the rebels' chief negotiator, told Reuters by text message late on Monday. "But we are close to it."

The deal to end one of two long-running insurgencies in the Philippines, which have killed more than 160,000 people, could be signed as early as this week if the four-day talks in Malaysia are successful.

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