The Philippine government has agreed to hold "a new round of exploratory talks" with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur "by the second week of February", President Gloria Arroyo said after talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Abd Allah Ahmad Badawi in Manila.

"The talks will strive to resolve outstanding issues and advance the overall climate of peace," Arroyo told a joint press conference with Abd Allah.

She praised Malaysia for its role in mediating the peace talks with the MILF, which has been fighting for nearly three decades to set up a separate Islamic state in the southern third of the largely-Roman Catholic Philippines.

President Arroyo is seeking a political settlement with the 11,900-member MILF before a 10 May presidential election, in which she is seeking another six-year term in office.

The MILF has rejected allegations it provided training and sanctuary to foreign militants from Jemaah Islamiyah, blamed for the deadly Bali bombing in 2002 and other attacks across Southeast Asia.

Abd Allah said the MILF would soon be informed of their decision to hold the talks, adding "it is our intention that we want to move the peace process forward".

"It is our intention to see that peace has been secured," in the southern Philippines, near the maritime border with Malaysia, he added.