Manila Fails To Sign Accord On Secret Talks With Muslim Rebels

October 2, 2007 at 1:23 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 02, 2007) – Government peace negotiators and Muslim rebels have secretly held talks in Malaysia, but both sides again failed to sign an agreement that would end more than three decades of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, has brokered the talks in an effort to revive the stalled peace negotiations. The talks, held in Kuala Lumpur on Sept. 25-26, centered on the issue of Muslim ancestral domain.

Those who attended the talks were Filipino peace negotiator Rodolfo Garcia and lawyer Leah Armamento, Mark Ryan Sullivan and former government chief peace negotiator Silvestre Afable Jr., who was appointed by Manila as senior adviser to the peace process.

Mohagher Iqbal led the MILF delegation with lawyer Michael Mastura, Maulana Alonto and Mike Pasigan. The MILF described the talks as “exhausting” because it was held during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Peace talks have been stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the same issue of ancestral domain, which 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.

“Still the same issue and we have not reached any agreement on the ancestral domain, particularly on the territorial aspect of the ancestral domain,” Iqbal, the chief MILF peace negotiator, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner, on Tuesday.

The ancestral domain 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 and the Sulu Archipelago.

Manila has previously offered the MILF the whole of 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.

But the rebel group flatly rejected the offer and insisted on self-determination.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting for independence in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations includes about 4 million Filipino Muslims.

“This is a high-risk negotiation, it can make of break the peace process,” Iqbal said, referring to the latest talks.

“We have been talking peace with the Filipino government the past seven years and apparently we are just going around in circle. The Presidency of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo will end in 2010 and yet we are still negotiating peace up to this time,” Iqbal said.

Another senior MILF rebel leader also accused Arroyo of wasting away seven years in peace talks.

“Don’t dribble too much, 2001 to 2010 is too long for a decisive President to clinch an agreement with the MILF to address the problem in Mindanao,” Jun Mantawil said.

“The government will not be short of pretensions why the talks are not moving, but what it cannot hide is the fact the remaining term of President Arroyo is not far away and even the ancestral domain aspect of the Tripoli Agreement of 2001 has not been hurdled by the two parties despite the excellent facilitation of the Malaysian government,” he said.

But despite the failure of both sides to sign any major agreement, the MILF has praised Malaysia for its role in brokering the peace talks. “Malaysia has put so much effort into the peace process in Mindanao and we appreciate this so much,” Iqbal said.

Kuala Lumpur is maintaining a contingent of truce observers in Mindanao as part of the International Monitoring Team.

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. Japan also has a member in the IMT.

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


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