Muslim Rebels Appeal For Patience As Peace Talks Failed

December 16, 2007 at 2:37 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 16, 2007) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), appealed for patience as peace talks with Manila stalled over demands for a separate Muslim homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

The MILF accused Manila of reneging to its commitment after peace talks failed Saturday in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the Philippine panel last month agreed on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for about 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.

”This ugly turn of event in the peace process is taxing the patience of the MILF and the Bangsamoro people, who may be compelled to resort to other means, pacific or otherwise, of resolving the Mindanao conflict when they are pushed to the wall and become hopeless in the present peace process,” Iqbal said.

The MILF said government negotiators headed by Rodolfo Garcia completely disregarded the agreement on the ancestral domain and insisted again that the granting of homeland to Muslims in Mindanao would solely be through Constitutional process which the rebel group previously opposed.

But the Philippine charter prohibits the dismembering of the country.

“This stance of the GRP peace panel has virtually jeopardized the integrity of the peace process and to continue with the talks would virtually turn it into a circus,” Iqbal said.

“The Philippine negotiators introduced extraneous and new matters not discussed and taken upon by the parties during the previous exploratory talks on ancestral domain that led to the signing of several consensus points.”

Iqbal said government leaders opposed to the peace talks should be blamed for the break down in the negotiations.

“We believe that spoilers of the peace process right at the corridors of powers are at work behind the scene to intervene again at the expense of our honorable counterpart from the government, without the knowledge of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” he said without elaborating further.

”The MILF peace panel, from the start of the talks in January 1997, has been serious in finding a just, lasting, and comprehensive political settlement of the Moro problem and the conflict in Mindanao and, therefore, has detested and will not participate in any double deal that would lead the parties to end.”

“The stand of the MILF peace panel and their principal, the Central Committee of the MILF, is that it is better to have no agreement at all than to enter into a bad agreement. The MILF leadership therefore appeals to the public and our constituents for their understanding and patience and steadfast in the support of the peace process,” he said.

Peace talks had been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

Iqbal last week said that both sides are expected to sign the formal agreement on ancestral domain probably before the end of the year after the two groups ended a meeting in Malaysia in November.

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.

Mohammad Ameen, a senior rebel leader, said the MILF will only sign a peace deal with Manila if it establishes genuine governance for Muslims either in the form of “state” or “sub-state”.

President Gloria Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF, the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state, in 2001.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers from the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims.

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 analysts fear that Arroyo or her allies in the House of Representatives might use the peace talks with the MILF as an excuse to amend the Constitution to change the system of government from presidential to parliamentary or federalism to allow the MILF to have a separate state and eventually prolong her into power beyond 2010.

Under the presidential form of government, Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is allowed only one six-year term.

In the charter change proposal suggested by her political allies who dominate Congress, she can be elected as prime minister should Congress approve a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to parliamentary. (Mindanao Examiner)


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