Malaysia's prime minister says the Philippine government and Muslim rebels will sign a peace deal to end one of Asia's longest and deadliest insurgencies "by the end of March".
Prime minister Najib Razak's comments came as his Philippine counterpart Benigno Aquino invited him to witness the ceremony when "the comprehensive agreement is due to be signed by the end of March".
An official in the office of Mr Aquino's adviser on the peace negotiations confirmed the signing was targeted for the end of next month though no exact date has been set.
"The successful conclusion of the Mindanao peace process... makes possible the empowerment of all the peoples of Mindanao," Mr Aquino said.
Muslim-majority Malaysia hosted the negotiations between both parties and Mr Aquino was speaking to reporters in the country's administrative capital Putrajaya on his first visit to the neighbouring country.
The southern Philippine state of Mindanao has seen a decades-long rebellion, killing more than 150,000, mostly civilians.
The Philippine government and the 12,000-member Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) completed negotiations last month for a power-sharing arrangement with the nation's Muslim minority in the south.
The deal aims to end an insurgency that began in the 1970s, killed tens of thousands and left large parts of the fertile southern Philippines mired in violence-plagued poverty.
They also include stamping out threats from renegade guerrillas and getting the support of hostile politicians and the nation's highest court.
But even Mr Aquino's peace chiefs have warned that the toughest stages, including implementing the deal, are yet to come after 18 years of stop-start negotiations.
A small MILF splinter group that still wants independence, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has continued to attack government forces there as well as court support from MILF members.
Followers of Nur Misuari, the founder of the MILF's rival guerrilla faction the Moro National Liberation Front also attacked the southern port of Zamboanga in September last year in an effort to wreck the talks, leaving more than 220 people dead.
International groups hopeful
International monitors observing Philippine government talks with Muslim rebels expressed confidence that efforts to end one of Asia's bloodiest and longest insurgencies will survive derailing attempts by hardline guerrillas.
Smaller factions opposed to the MILF's impending peace deal with Manila lack the following to block the process despite repeated acts of violence, the monitors told a news conference.
The observers, who have been sitting at protracted talks that concluded last month, also cited a strong commitment to peace by both Manila and the MILF, and growing popular support.
"Both parties realised from the beginning that there will always be parties who disagree... who take their disagreement to the point of trying to disrupt the process," Alistair MacDonald, the monitoring group's chairman, said.
"But as far as seeing widespread support for such views, we have not seen that," he said.
"What are their (the hardliners') numbers? 200? 500? That is a drop in the bucket."
Mr MacDonald says he saw no signs that MILF fighters were defecting to the hardliners.
The more the peace process moves forward, "the less there will be an opportunity for the spoilers to throw sand in the wheels", he added.
Another monitoring team member, Huseyin Oruc meanwhile warned spoilers could also crop up from the government side, disrupting the passage of laws needed to implement the peace deal.
The key piece of legislation would be an organic law that President Benigno Aquino wants passed by next year authorising the creation of a Muslim self-rule area in the south.
Mr Oruc, an official of Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a Turkish aid group, urged Filipinos to publicly support the impending deal.