Release Jailed Rebel Leader, MILF Tells Philippine Government

January 6, 2008 at 6:28 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment
SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 06, 2008) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has urged Manila to free a jailed former rebel leader.

The MILF wanted Nur Misuari, chieftain of the former rebel group, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) release from detention after six of his followers were freed last week.
“We reiterate our calls for the Arroyo government to free our brother Nur Misuari. He is a Muslim, a Bangsamoro brother and he should also be freed as others were pardoned and released from jail just like the six MNLF followers of brother Nur and the others like former President Joseph Estrada and other high-profile prisoners,” a rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.
Estrada who was convicted of plunder was granted absolute pardon last year by President Gloria Arroyo. Estrada was deposed in 2001 by Arroyo after a bloodless revolution.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.
Under the peace agreement, Manila would provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.
Many former guerrillas were disgruntled with the peace deal, saying, the Arroyo government failed to comply with some of its provisions and uplift their standards of living. They accused Manila of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the south.
And in November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.
Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, but had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest in Manila.
Khaled Musa, a senior MILF rebel leader, said Misuari should be freed immediately without any precondition. Misuari deserves freedom more than Estrada, he said.
Musa also asked the government to work closely and immediately with the MNLF to assess and fully implement the 1996 peace pact.
But while MILF leaders asked for Misuari’s release, others said he already lost his moral authority to lead the Muslims in Mindanao.
The said that Misuari failed to bring developments to the Muslim autonomous region when he was governor. He also ran twice for governor in Sulu even while under detention, but failed. And supported Arroyo’s election bid and her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004 in exchange for promises that he would be pardoned and freed, which did not happen.
His arrest in Malaysia also was an issue among MNLF leaders and said to be in retaliation by his failure to secure the release of dozens of foreigners and Malaysian citizens kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in two island resorts off Sabah and brought them to Sulu in 2000.
The MILF, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, is currently negotiating peace with Manila, but talks were stalled last month over the issue of the Muslim ancestral domain.
Peace talks were stalled after government and rebel negotiators 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.
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.
Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord.
Murad Ebrahim, the leader of the MILF, has appealed to Muslims for patience over the failure of peace talks.
“The road to freedom is always full of twist and turn and to overcome, we must work, persist, and sacrifice,” Ebrahim said.
The MILF is an army of about 12,000 rebels with millions of Muslim supporters in the Philippines.
The MILF is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. It accused the government of reneging to its commitment after peace talks last month failed in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.
Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said the Philippine panel agreed late last year on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but later reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for more than 4 million Muslims and indigenous tribes in Mindanao.
Iqbal said the MILF is consistent with its demand for a Muslim homeland. He said the 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 of resolving the Mindanao conflict when they are pushed to the wall and become hopeless in the peace process.
He said the government peace panel must honor its commitment and previous agreement so the talks could resume.
“The government peace panel must honor its commitment to the Bangsamoro people because we wanted peace to reign and end the violence in Mindanao,” he said. “We will wait for the government to reconsider its decision.”
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.
The Philippine charter prohibits the dismembering of the country.But Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said there is a proposal to amend the Constitution and introduce a federal system of government.
“This is one of the proposals the government is looking at to get the peace talks moving again,” Dureza said, adding, the only purpose of changing the Constitution is to install a Bangsamoro state or a Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
It is also what many opposition politicians fear because Arroyo’s 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.
The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.
The Philippine military previously demanded MILF rebels to lay down their weapons before peace talks could resume. (With a report from Mark Navales)

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