"We are trying to sign the compact by the first quarter of next year [before Gloria Arroyo, the president, steps down] so we are going on a fast-track," he said.

International monitors

In a joint statement, the two sides said they had agreed to re-establish an international task force "to monitor ceasefire,  humanitarian, rehabilitation, development and civilian protection agreements".

Othman said that Malaysia would be a leading member of the new monitoring team, and that it could be deployed in as little as a month.

"It depends on how soon the contingent will be ready. Once cabinet gives approval ... we will move very quickly," he said.

Separatists 'optimistic'

The MILF has also said it is optimistic about reaching a settlement in the talks, which collapsed in August 2008 when they launched deadly attacks across the southern island of Mindanao, resulting in a mass exodus of residents.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, said that the group "does not want war" but that it "will not accept an imposed or half-baked solution".

The violence in 2008 broke out after the Philippine supreme court banned a proposed deal that would have given the MILF control over large areas of the south, which the group claims as its "ancestral domain".

Over 700,000 people were displaced at the height of the fighting and nearly 400 were killed in the MILF's fight for Muslim self-rule.

International monitors were forced to pull out and more than 250,000 people remain in evacuation centres across Mindanao.

A new ceasefire was signed in September, paving the way for the resumption of the talks.

The conflict has claimed more than 150,000 lives on the island which is home to a majority of Muslims, but who form only a small minority in the largely Roman Catholic Philippines.