Muslim Rebels Resume Talks; Warn Of Renewed War In Mindanao If Negotiations Fail

October 23, 2007 at 6:27 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 23, 2007) – Muslim rebels negotiating peace with Manila resumed talks Tuesday with Filipino negotiators, but warned hostilities may erupt in Mindanao should the talks fail.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels are fighting for a separate homeland in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included about 4 million Muslims.

Rebels and government peace negotiators are holding talks in Malaysia in an effort to sign a deal on the Muslim homeland.

Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the 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.

“The issue on ancestral domain must be resolved first before we can resume formal peace talks. We cannot have perpetual peace negotiations,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said hostilities may break out if peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers in Mindanao.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it has threatened to pull out its contingent from the International Monitoring Team if the talks remain stalled.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the rebels and the Arroyo government.

Kuala Lumpur has shortened the stay of the IMT in Mindanao, from one year to only three months. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines, since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

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.

“We want to resolve this problem. The peace talks have been stalled since last year and we cannot have a perpetual cease-fire with the Philippine government. A cease-fire without any political settlement is not a guarantee that there is peace. The Muslims need real peace,” Kabalu said.

The strife-torn, but mineral-rich Mindanao had been embroiled in political dispute and power struggle between the government and rebels for more than three decades. But the MILF also blamed political warlords and big businessmen of exploiting the region’s natural resources.

“Without a real peace, exploitation by political warlords and big corporation and influential businessmen will continue unabated and will leave the Muslims without lands of their own, without natural resources to call their own and not even a descent livelihood for everyone. The ancestral domain is the only answer to these problems and the road to peace in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.

Philippine and MILF peace negotiators also held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur early this month, but both sides failed to arrive at an agreement that would end more than three decades of insurgency in the southern Philippines.

The rebels were insisting on the ancestral domain which 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. The rebels rejected the offer. (Mindanao Examiner)

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