COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 24, 2010) – Muslim have praised Saudi Arabia for joining an international group supporting the peace talks aimed at ending decades of bloody fighting in the Philippines.
“We are happy that Saudi Arabia has finally joined the International Contact Group which is supporting the peace talks between us the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Philippine government,” said Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the rebel group which is fighting for self-determination in the largely Catholic country.
Kabalu said aside from Saudi Arabia, which is a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Japan are also members of the International Contact Group alongside with four international organizations - The Asia Foundation in the United States; Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland; Muhammadiyah in Indonesia and Conciliation Resources in the United Kingdom.
Philippine and MILF peace negotiators last year signed the agreement for the formation of the International Contact Group, which would open the way for the participation of countries, particularly from the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Conference, in the peace process.
The International Contact Group serves as guarantee that both the Filipino government and MILF comply with all signed agreements.
President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 in an effort to end decades of bloody Muslim secessionist war in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.
A Muslim homeland deal initially signed by peace negotiators, but declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, sparked a series of rebel attacks that killed and wounded dozens of civilians in Mindanao. When Arroyo stepped down in June, President-elect Benigno Aquino said he will resume peace talks with the MILF with negotiations likely to begin in January 2011.
The successful outcome of the peace process hinges on proper leverage by ICG countries.
Murad Ebrahim, the secluded leader of the MILF, praised Saudi Arabia for joining the International Contact Group. “The participation of Saudi Arabia in the ICG is not only a big boost to the peace undertaking in Mindanao, but also gives it a greater personality and legitimacy,” he said.
Last year, the Philippines and the MILF also signed an accord ensuring the protection of civilians in areas in Mindanao where there are fighting.
The Agreement on Civilian Protection was signed in Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks.
The two groups have designated humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations, both international and national, with proven track record for impartiality, neutrality and independence, to carry out the civilian protection functions. The agreement on civilian protection component is incorporated into the Terms of Reference of the International Monitoring Team composed of Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Libya and Japan.
Under the civilian protection deal, the MILF and the Philippine government agreed to refrain from intentionally targeting or attacking non-combatants, prevent suffering of the civilian population and avoid acts that would cause collateral damage to civilians.
And to refrain from targeting or intentionally attacking civilian properties or facilities such as schools, hospitals, religious premises, health and food distribution centers, or relief operations, or objects or facilities indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and of a civilian nature and take all necessary actions to facilitate the provision of relief supplies to affected communities.
The two sides also agreed to take all precautions feasible to avoid incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and danger to civilian objects and to ensure that all protective and relief actions shall be undertaken in a purely nondiscriminatory basis covering all affected communities.
They would also issue orders to their respective military units or security forces, including paramilitaries, associated militias, and police units to conduct their operations consistent with their obligations and commitments described in the accord. (Mindanao Examiner)