Wednesday, December 20, 2006

MILF Firm On Demand, Ready To Resume Peace Talks With Manila

MAGUINDANAO (Juan Magtanggol / 20 Dec) – The Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), on Wednesday reiterated its demand for self-determination in the troubled, but mineral-rich southern region of Mindanao as peace talks with Manila are to resume early next year in Malaysia.

Malaysia is brokering peace talks between the Filipino government and the MILF, but negotiations ended in September in Kuala Lumpur with both sides failing to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue -- ancestral domain.

"Our position remains the same. We expect to resume peace talks by early next year, probably January, in Malaysia. The MILF is always optimistic about the peace process and we hope to discuss the issue on ancestral domain," Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator, told the Mindanao Examiner by phone from a rebel headquarters in Mindanao.

Iqbal said the MILF peace panel has been meeting the past days in preparation for the resumption of the talks with Manila. He did not elaborate.

Ancestral domain refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Manila opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, which is fighting for independence in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations includes about 4 million Filipino Muslims.

Iqbal said government peace negotiators previously offered the MILF the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989.

The ancestral domain, on the other hand, covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines.

Peace talks between the government and MILF started in January 1997, but the absence of a neutral third party bogged down the initiative.
It was only on March 24, 2001, after the all-out war against the MILF declared by former President Joseph Estrada that Malaysia, at the behest of the Philippine government, facilitated the talks.
However, in February 2003, despite the avowed all-peace policy of President Gloria Arroyo, an all-out war was again declared against the rebels, but both sides later agreed to resume talks.

President George Bush said the United States is willing to pour more development aid in Mindanao should the MILF signed a peace deal with Manila, a key U.S. ally in the global war on terrorism.
The MILF also praised Bush for his commitment to Mindanao.

But despite the peace talks and a fragile truce signed five years ago, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in Mindanao. However, the presence of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) prevented the clashes from further spreading.

The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister's Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya.

Iqbal praised the IMT, saying, the truce observers play a vital role in the preservation of peace in the southern region."We appreciate the efforts of the IMT in promoting peace and stability in Mindanao and they play a very important role in the peace process. Everybody in the IMT is working hard to achieve peace in Mindanao," he said.

He also praised Brunei for its role in the Mindanao peace process. "Brunei is tiny country, yet it plays a big role in the IMT. Its truce monitoring group is working effectively and they deserve all the praises," he said.

Three IMT groups have been in Mindanao the past 3 years, monitoring the cease-fire between the Philippine military and the MILF. (Mindanao Examiner)

1 comment:

Ubaydullah said...

MILF must be tired and banged up. Maybe, they need a little rest from the peace talks.