Filipino Muslim leader, Nur Misuari is seeking "temporary political asylum" from Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed while under arrest in Sabah, before he is brought to a third country, said U.S.-based lawyer Ely Velez Pamatong after the Philippines government continued to give conflicting statements on the rebel leader's future status.

Government officials who initially said Misuari should be allowed to stay in Libya a month after his imprisonment for illegal entry into Malaysia's Sabah on December 24, said yesterday that he should be brought to Manila to face the rebellion charges that will be filed against him.

Misuari's lawyer Pamatong reading out his letter to Mahathir in an exclusive interview with Gulf News, said: "We haven't found a host country for yet him."

Mahathir should give the OIC more time to help Misuari, he added.

Pamatong flew to Kuala Lumpur recently where he requested a judicial hearing of Misuari's case and access to Misuari and six other MNLF leaders who were detained in an undisclosed place in Sabah.

Misuari was ousted as chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in April this year.

National Security Council head, Roilo Golez said yesterday: "There was an option that he should be exiled and Libya might accept being the host. That was one of the options that was studied at first. But the option that we want is for him to be here within the first two weeks of January."

Libya is a member of the OIC's Committee of the Eight that brokered the 1996 peace pact between the Philippine government and the MNLF, which was then led by Misuari.

"(But) there is no confirmed offer (from Libya), so what we will do with Misuari is to have him repatriated. It could happen in the first days of January, within the first two weeks of January," Golez explained.

Earlier, Presidential Adviser on Special Concerns, Norberto Gonzales, said the plan was to bring Misuari back to Manila in the first week of January.

"The last working day in Manila is on Friday (December 21)," noted Golez. He added that no one could fetch Misuari after Friday because all government office personnel are on vacation for the holiday season.

"(Malaysia's) December 24 deadline is adjustable," said Golez when asked if Malaysia has been pressuring Manila to come up with a solution to the Misuari issue as soon as possible.

"After Malaysia, he will be returned here," insisted Executive Secretary Alberto Romulo, who added that Malaysia had promised not to give Misuari to a third country.

Presidential Spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao earlier said the Libyan government has not officially notified the Philippine government of the proposed Misuari exile, but added it could be a "real option," although the government also wanted him back to face the rebellion charges.

Pro-administration and opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, criticised the government for allowing Misuari to be transferred to Libya.

"He should face the rebellion charges filed against him in the Philippines. It is wrong to allow a criminal to run away," said pro-administration Senator Robert Barbers.

"The government has been unusually soft on Misuari," commented Senators Rodolfo Biazon and Tessie Ureta.

Biazon said that Misuari might continue the secessionist movement because he still influences 85 per cent of the MNLF.