Muslim Rebels Want Stalled Peace Talks ResumeApril 22, 2008 at 6:23 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 22, 2008) – The Philippines largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, urged Manila on Monday to resume the stalled peace talks as Malaysia threatened anew to pull out all its ceasefire observers deployed in Mindanao is there is no progress in the seven-year old negotiations.
Kuala Lumpur is brokering the peace talks in an effort to bring an end to the more than three decades of bloody insurgency in the war-torn, but mineral-rich region in the southern Philippines.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Kuala Lumpur wanted progress in the peace process.
Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim also said Kuala Lumpur will not be sending any more truce observers to Mindanao after the mandate of its current team ends in September. Members of the Malaysian Defense Forces had been in Mindanao since 2004 as part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).
The monitoring team 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. Canada and Japan have also members on the team.
“The thing is we have to get cooperation from both sides. But if one party is not making the effort, we will have to end the mission. Malaysia is actually prepared to continue with whatever humanitarian effort, whether through negotiation or cooperation, but if the situation remains negative and the government there feels it needs to review it, and then we shall give them room to do so,” Yatim said.
The MILF fears that the pull out of international truce observers would have an effect on the peace process in Mindanao. Manila is currently negotiating peace with MILF, but talks were stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of Muslim ancestral domain.
The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.
“There is apprehension of course and with the impending pull out of the IMT, we don’t know what will happen. We really cannot predict the future of the peace talks, but we have been so many times urging the Philippine government to resume the stalled peace talks and nothing has come up,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner on Tuesday. “Since the IMT arrived, armed conflict between government and rebel forces significantly decreased in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.
The MILF previously appealed to rebels and supporters for patience as the talks stalled over demands for a separate Muslim homeland.
Last month, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney met with the secluded MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim and discussed the peace process in Mindanao. The US had in the past offered as much as $30 million to fund development projects in Muslim areas in the southern region should the MILF signed a peace deal with Manila.
MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the Filipino peace panel last year agreed on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, but later reneged on the accord that will constitute a separate homeland for over 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 Constitution 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 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.
President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a cease-fire agreement, but some rebel commanders see the negotiations as a strategy which is aimed at temporarily stopping the hostilities in Mindanao until her term ends in 2010 and pass on the secessionist problems to the next president.
Mohammad Ameen, a senior rebel leader, previously said the MILF will only sign a peace deal with Arroyo government if it establishes genuine governance for Muslims. (Mindanao Examiner)