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Bisaya Bloggers » Peace Talks

Feb 07 2008

5,000 Muslims, Christians Hold Rally In Southern Philippines

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 07, 2008) — Over 5,000 demonstrators in Basilan island warned Thursday that in the event the derailed peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) breaks down, its ‘bloody ramifications’ would be felt not only in Mindanao but also in the whole country.

Conflict could also spill over to Luzon and Visayas shoudl the peace talks totally collapsed.“The Bangsamoro is asserting its rights because of injustice,” said Ustadz John Ausal, MILF spokesperson in Basilan.

“If the peace talks will be broken and the negotiations will stop, I am ninety-nine percent sure that war will start again.”

“If there is no peace in Mindanao, then there will be no peace in Visayas and Luzon as well,” said Hadji Hamid Salahuddin, the local leader of the rebel group.

The protesters gathered at Datu Dizal Cultural Center in Lamitan City to push the government and the MILF into resuming the peace talks, which has been stalled for nearly two months already.

“I doubt it if the government is sincere in negotiating on ancestral domain. Even during our time (GRP-MNLF peace talks), niloloko lang kami ng GRP (they are fooling us already),” Salahuddin said.

Sammy Maulana, secretary-general of Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, a network of 164 Moro non-government and people’s organizations, urged the government and MILF peace panels into returning to the negotiating table immediately but lambasted the former for “not abiding with what have been previously agreed by the two parties.”

“While some say that the voice of the government can be considered as the voice of God, it only holds true if that government is pro-people. But the actions of this (Philippine) government show that it is anti-people. Therefore, the Bangsamoro people must voice out, because it is truer that the voice of the people is the voice of God,” Maulana said.

The GRP-MILF peace talks have been derailed when the MILF negotiating panel boycotted the 15th Exploratory Talks last December 15 to 17, 2007 in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia because the government draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain did not contain much of the consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The GRP also inserted a provision, which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow constitutional process.Since deposed President Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s declaration of all-out war in 2000, the GRP-MILF peace talks progressed when government agreed not to use the constitution as a framework and the MILF dropped its demand for independence.

Situations have been aggravated by recent statements from some of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a “juridical entity” without a plebiscite, while AFP Vice Chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero stated that peace talks would not continue without MILF’s disarmament.

Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process, analyzed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

Over 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos, and Iligan last month to break the impasse. “It is high time that the people of Basilan should be aware of the peace processes because they are affected by it and the end benefits eventually go to them,” said Lantawan Mayor Tahira Ali.

“The people of Basilan want peace in their province. The people are united in attaining peace in Basilan. This can be attained if it is not mixed with political motives by those in power,” Vice Governor Rashid Sakkalahul said. (Norodin Makalay)

Feb 01 2008

People’s Direct Vote: Key To The Snag In The GRP-MILF Peace Talks

Moro Islamic Liberation Front chieftain Murad Ebrahim gestures as he speaks to former Libyan Ambassador to Manila Salem Adam in this photo taken during a plenum in Mindanao in 2005. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 01, 2008) — The question of constitutionality or subjecting whatever consensus coming out of Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GRP-MILF) peace talks to constitutional processes will be addressed by democratic instruments provided by the Constitution itself.

With the provision of a mechanism for submitting proposed law to citizen’s approval, potential conflicts in the evolving consensus points between the GRP and MILF peace panels will be properly addressed. In the case of the GRP-MILF peace negotiation standoff, on the other hand, the process itself needs to be respected and uphold by all parties concerned.

Work of the peace panels, as duly constituted bodies, whose job gained the support and affirmation of many sectors in the local and international community, which reached a certain level of success per appraisal of civil society and business in Mindanao, and which is heading to a signing of a peace agreement that will provide the impetus for lasting peace and development in the Mindanao region, should be pursued to completion.

Due to powerful sectors in the immediate circle of President Gloria Arroyo, however, the GRP-MILF peace talk is suffering an impasse. Newspaper reports point to an effort of the government’s security cluster cabinet raising the issue of subjecting the negotiation to constitutional processes as the leading cause of the deadlock.

Accepting historical basis and precedents in peace negotiations between governments and revolutionary organizations, and living up to the original premises mutually agreed by the panels, that is: MILF not to raise independence in the talks and for government not to subject the negotiation to the constitution, this recent development is totally a one hundred twenty degrees turnaround for the government side.

Peace advocates and non-governmental organizations in Mindanao urged the resumption of the talks and for the government and rebel negotiators to pursue the gains they have so far achieved. The signing of a peace agreement will be followed by a transition period.

It could be three or six years. This phase is joint endeavor of the government, MILF and the international community to implement the action agenda in the singed agreement.

After such transition, the direct vote of the citizens affected by the political experiment will be consulted to decide the fate of the political formula devised and implemented to address the quest for self-determination of the Bangsamoro. People’s direct vote will be undertaken in various forms in several phases of the political experiment.

First referendum will be a plebiscite for BJE territory citizens to decide if they wanted to be part of such a regional government. Second referendum will be as plebiscite which will follow after a charter change process called to effect by Philippine Congress to amend provisions in the Philippine Constitution to accommodate the Bangsamoro regional government.

Third referendum is the conduct of an open, popular election of executives and legislators of the Bangsamoro regional government. These three steps will put a popular and democratic stamp of approval for the new Bangsamoro government.

A fourth referendum, which will come depending on the political and cultural situation prevailing at that time, and if the conditions will merit one, is the conduct of an internationally supervised referendum for the Bangsamoro people to decide on the adoption of an Independent Bangsamoro State.

(Candido Aparece, Jr.)

Jan 27 2008

IMT Pullout Threatening Peace In South

Muslim women prepare to pray in southern Philippines. Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, is worried over the stalled negotiations. Manila reneged on its earlier agreement over the issue an MILF demand of Muslim ancestral domain. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark Navales)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 28, 2007) — The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), fears that the pull out of international truce observers would have an effect on the peace process in Mindanao.

The Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) has threatened to pull out if there is no progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

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.

Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a member of the MILF peace panel, said the talks would be affected should the IMT pulls out this year.

“If the MILF is threatened, then the GRP should be threatened more. We need a third party as facilitator in negotiation. The element of violation is worked by the IMT, as a result of the CCCH (Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities). We have to push them to the truth… MILF is rebel; the pull out of IMT should threaten the GRP more,” Mastura said at a recent peace forum in Cotabato City.

Speaking before representatives of non-government and peoples’ organizations at the forum, Mastura responded to reports that the stalled peace process could be more imperiled once the IMT pulls out of Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail or if Malaysia pulls out its contingent from the IMT in Mindanao. Since the IMT arrived in 2004, armed conflict between government and rebel forces significantly decreased, observers said.

Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August unless the stalled peace talks between the Philippine government and MILF resumes.

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia wanted progress in the peace process, but Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the armed conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely. 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 deployment of an IMT in Mindanao is authorized under the provision of Chapter 8 of the United Nations Charter which allows peace settlement to be managed under a regional arrangement and upon the invitation of the host government.”

“In this mission, the Malaysian peacekeepers form as a major contingent in the IMT together with other participants from Brunei and Libya. The IMT plays a critical role in supporting the current GRP-MILF peace negotiations and in continuing the momentum for the resolution of the conflict in Mindanao,” said Ayesah Abubakar, the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research and Education for Peace of the Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, Malaysia.

“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” said Secretary Jesus Dureza, the presidential adviser on the peace process.

Talks between the government and the MILF hit a snag in December over disagreements on the coverage of ancestral domain and subjecting it to constitutional process.

Dureza assessed the impasse as “among the most serious to stall the rocky talks, a big hump” upon which the GRP has no “magic formula” while “looking for a way out”.

The MILF negotiating panel refused to meet its government counterpart during the 15th exploratory talks last December 15-17 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia because the GRP draft of a proposed memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain supposedly did not contain certain consensus points earlier agreed by the two parties.

The government negotiating panel recently inserted a provision which states that the implementation of the agreement will have to follow “constitutional process.” The setting up of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) was agreed upon by government and MILF negotiators during exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur last year.

This was aggravated by statements from some of the president’s key officials threatening the MILF with sanctions.

Secretary Ronaldo Puno was quoted by the Philippine media saying the government should not give in to the MILF’s demand for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) without a plebiscite, while Armed Forces deputy chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Romero stated that peace talks will not resume unless the rebels lay down their weapons.

Negotiations between the two parties progressed because of mutual agreement that government should not refer to Constitution and the MILF would not demand independence.

Foreign observers from the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and donor community have expressed concern on the instability in the peace process.

Various groups described the present setback in the peace talks as the most serious impasse to stall the peace talks since negotiations started in 1997. Thousands of people have marched in the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, General Santos and Iligan the past weeks to press the government and the MILF to resume their talks and eventually to sign a peace accord.

Rallies are also to be launched in Basilan, Pagadian, Zamboanga and Sulu these coming months, organizers said.

Talks between the government and the MILF started in 1996 but it was in 2001 when the Malaysian government intervened as their official facilitator and host to the negotiations.

Some of the significant agreements facilitated by Malaysia were the Agreement on Peace between GRP and the MILF of June 22, 2001 (Tripoli Agreement), the Implementing Guidelines on the Security Aspect of August 7, 2001, and the Implementing Guidelines on the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development Aspect of May 7, 2002.

“The IMT is not only tasked to monitor the upholding of a cease fire from both camps but is also mandated to monitor the implementation of the above signed agreements and ensure that the peace process progress to the stage of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development of the conflict affected areas. These two conditions are equally important for confidence building measures as the peace talks are being pursued and a final peace agreement is yet to be signed,” Abubakar said.

Abubakar said that the IMT operations are carried out according to the following roles and responsibilities: “To observe and monitor the implementation of cessation of hostilities, as well as the socioeconomic development of the agreements. This includes receiving reports from the joint CCCH, LMT (Local Monitoring Team), Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), and other stakeholders.”

“Also, the IMT should assess and determine the validity of specific reports, protests or complaints of cease fire violations. These alleged violations and any actions taken should be coordinated with the Joint CCCH and LMT. Lastly, the IMT should determine if a particular report, protest or complaint has been acted upon substantially and satisfactorily at the level of the Joint CCCH or LMT, or whether there is a need for further verification investigation.”

And “to conduct field verification and validate any reported violation; to coordinate closely with the Joint CCCH and LMT on the conduct of the field verification and validation of the reported violation; to report to the GRP-MILF Peace Panels its findings and assessment of the reported violation; and to ensure that all reports are classified and treated accordingly.” (Norodin Makalay)

Jan 16 2008

Malaysian Truce Observers Pulling Out Of Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 16, 2008) – Malaysian truce observers deployed in the southern Philippines are pulling out unless peace talks between the Philippines and Muslim rebels resume.

Maj. Gen. Datuk Mat Yassin bin Mat Daud, head of the Malaysian contingent, said they would return home by August if no agreement is forged between the Filipino government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, which are fighting for a separate state in the war-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.

Peace talks were stalled last after government and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the negotiations before the MILF can reach a political settlement.

The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region, which comprises five provinces, 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 Palawan Island in central Philippines and the Sulu Archipelago.

President 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.

“I doubt very much that IMT will stay in Mindanao (if no agreement is signed by then),” the Malaysian general said over a fellowship dinner hosted by Mayor Muslimin Sema, of Cotabato City, on Tuesday.

Yassin was referring to the International Monitoring Team, which 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.

Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it had previously threatened to pull out its contingent from the IMT if the negotiations remain stalled.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said they wanted progress in the peace talks. The Malaysian truce observers have been in Mindanao the past three years.

Since the IMT arrived, fighting between security and rebel forces drastically decreased from 698 armed clashes in 2004 to just 7 incidents last year.

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 IMT in Mindanao, whose 16 million populations included four million Muslims. (With a report from Abdullah Cusain)

Jan 07 2008

Thousands Join Peace Rally In Southern Philippines




About 30,000 people, mostly Muslims, hold a peace rally Monday, January 07, 2008 in Cotabato city in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner/CBCS photos).

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 07, 2008) – About 30,000 people, mostly Muslims, joined a huge rally Monday in the southern Philippines and urged Manila to peace negotiations with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The gathering in Cotabato City was part of a series of peace rally in Mindanao, according to the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS), a network of Muslim non-government and people’s organizations which helped organized the event.

The group said some 50,000 people have signed to join the month-long peace rally which is expected to end in Ipil town in Zamboanga Sibugay province. Many of those who participated in the rally came from Shariff Kabunsuan, North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces.

The rally was held in response to the “fast changing” peace process in Mindanao that is reshaping the future of the locals, especially the civil society that comprises the greater majority in the grassroots, said Abdulbasit Benito, chairman of the CBCS media committee.

“The current status of the peace process in Mindanao is fast changing and reshaping the future of the ‘Mindanawons’ especially the civil society that comprise the greater majority in the grassroots. The expected signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the MILF and GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) in Kuala Lumpur on the issue of ancestral domain could have been a recompense for the ten-year long negotiation between the MILF and the GRP that commenced in July of 1997,” Benito said.

Benito was referring to the government’s stalled peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“But the stance of the GRP in nonconforming to the agreed consensus points, a clear manifestation of the feebleness of the GRP to bestow strong political will for the realization of the peace accord,” he said.

Benito said the peace rally carried the theme “Uphold the gains of the Peace Processes,” adding that “the initiative came out as a unified response to draw the attention of the ‘gate keepers’ of the peace processes.”

“We, in the civil society is aware of the fact that majority of people in the grassroots desire for a meaningful result of the peace process, not only to put an end to the ravages of war, but to address the longstanding political problem in a non-violent way,” Benito said.

Benito pointed out that the civil society’s unified response can create a desired impact by significantly reducing the possible incidence of conflict exacerbation brought about by the fragile peace confronting Mindanao. “Prerequisite to our yearning for human security, peace and economic progress is the attainment of a negotiated political settlement.”

“The action points generally aims to draw the attention of these ‘gate keepers’ to immediately take necessary actions and muster enough courage to bring about the long awaited peaceful settlement,” he said.

He said the second leg of the rally will be held on Thursday in General Santos City.

Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said the rally only showed how important is the peace process to the people in Mindanao. “We are not surprised at all by the huge turnout of people in the peace rally. Mindanao is for peace and we wanted peace also to rule in this homeland of ours,” he told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.

Last week, Murad Ebrahim, leader of the MILF, appealed 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.

It was the second time the MILF appealed to Muslims and rebels for patience over the slow progress of the peace talks. Last month, Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, also appealed to Muslims to remain calm and patient over the failure of the talks.

Many rebel commanders are getting frustrated and restless over the failure of the seven-year old peace talks with the Arroyo government.

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.

Iqbal 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 reiterated his previous statement and said his group is consistent with their demand for a Muslim homeland.

Iqbal previously said that 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.

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 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.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.

Jan 04 2008

Peace Rally Kicks Off In Mindanao

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 04, 2008) — Some 50,000 people are expected to join the first leg of a series of Mindanao-wide peace rally which will begin here Monday.

Many of those who will participate in the rally are sectoral representatives from the nearby provinces of Shariff Kabunsuan, North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

The rally will be held in response to the “fast changing” peace process in Mindanao that is “reshaping the future of the Mindanawons, especially the civil society that comprise the greater majority in the grassroots,” said Abdulbasit Benito, chair of media committee of the organizer, in an apparent reference to the aborted talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine peace panels which were supposed to have taken place in Kuala Lumpur on December 15-17, 2007.

The rally will be spearheaded by the Cotabato-based regional management committee of the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, a network of Moro non-government and peoples organizations with 168 member-organizations Mindanao-wide.

It will start at 9 a.m. from “strategic points” in the city and the three provinces and will end at 3 p.m. at the city plaza. A press conference will be held simultaneously at Hotel Castro Function Hall at 12 p.m.

“The current status of the peace process in Mindanao is fast changing and reshaping the future of the Mindanawons especially the civil society that comprise the greater majority in the grassroots. The expected signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the MILF and GRP in Kuala Lumpur on the issue of ancestral domain could have been a recompense for the ten-year long negotiation between the MILF and the GRP that commenced in July of 1997,” Benito said in a statement.

“But the stance of the GRP in nonconforming to the agreed consensus points, a clear manifestation of the feebleness of the GRP to bestow strong political will for the realization of the peace accord,” he said.

Benito said the peace rally will carry the theme “Uphold the gains of the Peace Processes,” adding that “the initiative came out as a unified response to draw the attention of the ‘gate keepers’ of the peace processes.”

Benito asserted that the “contentious issue” on the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement (FPA) between the MNLF and the GRP “is viewed to impinge the peace process between the MILF and GRP to pursue.”

He argued that eleven years after the signing of the FPA, “gaps” between positions of the GRP and MNLF on the “genuine implementation” of the FPA widens. “These incidents inevitably make the peace situation fluid, volatile and according to some, can explode anytime.”

“We, in the civil society is aware of the fact that majority of people in the grassroots desire for a meaningful result of the peace process, not only to put an end to the ravages of war, but to address the longstanding political problem in a non-violent way,” Benito said.

Benito pointed out that the civil society’s unified response “can create a desired impact by significantly reducing the possible incidence of conflict exacerbation brought about by the fragile peace confronting our homeland.”

“Prerequisite to our yearning for human security, peace and economic progress is the attainment of a negotiated political settlement,” Benito said.

“The action points generally aims to draw the attention of these ‘gate keepers’ to immediately take necessary actions and muster enough courage to bring about the long awaited peaceful settlement.”

Benito said the “civil society in Mindanao urgently appeal” for “swift and more carefully review the implementation of the GRP-MNLF 1996 peace accord so that gaps are identified, corrective measures are installed, and implementation scheme put into place;” “for the immediate resumption of the GRP-MILF peace talks and for the Government to honor its commitment to the consensus points;” and “for the GRP and the MILF to refrain from any unnecessary actions that may jeopardize the peace talks.”

The second leg of the rally will be held on Jan. 10 in General Santos City and to be participated by sectoral representatives from the city and nearby provinces of Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Koronadal City.

The other legs of the rally is yet to be confirmed but on Feb. 7 the same rally will be held in Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay, Pagadian and Diplog cities and Ipil town. (Norodin Makalay)

Jan 02 2008

Be Patient, MILF Tells Muslims In Philippines

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front woman rests in her house in southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark navales)

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 02, 2008) – The leader of the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, the MILF, appealed for patience over the failure of peace talks with Manila.

«The road to freedom is always full of twist and turn and to overcome, we must work, persist, and sacrifice,» Murad Ebrahim, chieftain of the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, said.

It was the second time the MILF appealed to Muslims and rebels for patience over the slow progress of the peace talks. Last month, Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, also appealed to Muslims to remain calm and patient over the failure of the talks.

Many rebel commanders are getting frustrated and restless over the failure of the seven-year old peace talks with the Arroyo government.

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.

Iqbal 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 reiterated his previous statement and said his group is consistent with their demand for a Muslim homeland.

Iqbal previously said that 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.

Allies of President Gloria Arroyo 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.

Peace talks were stalled in September last year 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.

President 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.

The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.

«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,» Iqbal said.

Dec 15 2007

Muslim Rebels Appeal For Patience As Peace Talks Failed

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)

Dec 15 2007

Manila Reneged On Agreement, MILF Peace Talks Stalled Anew

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 15, 2007) – Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels accused Manila of reneging to its commitment after peace talks were stalled Saturday in Malaysia.

Malaysia is brokering the peace talks and has previously threatened to pull out its truce observers in the southern Philippines if the negotiations do not progress.

Government and rebel negotiators previously agreed on the scope of the Muslim ancestral domain in southern Philippines. It refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.

But the MILF accused government negotiators of reneging on the agreement that stalled the talks.

“The MILF peace panel accused the government of reneging on its commitment to the peace process by reversing all what have been agreed as consensus points on ancestral domain,” it said in a statement.

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.

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

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, earlier 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 is allowed only three terms, but she can be elected as Prime Minister should Congress, dominated by her political allies, approves a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to Parliamentary.

Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is unpopular in the Philippines and topped the list of the most corrupt presidents in recent history, according to a Pulse Asia Survey.

The survey conducted Among 1,200 respondents nationwide from October 21-31, 2007 showed that 42% think that Arroyo is the most corrupt followed by Ferdinand Marcos with 35% and Joseph Estrada with 16%. Former presidents Fidel Ramos with 5% and Corazon Aquino with 1% came in at the bottom of the list.

The Philippines is also perceived to be among the world’s most corrupt countries and ranked 131st out of the 180 nations studied, with a 2.5 rating, together with Burundi, Honduras, Iran, Libya, Nepal, and Yemen, according to the annual Corruption Perceptions Index released recently by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International.

The index score ranges between 0, which is highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean. (Mindanao Examiner)

Dec 12 2007

Muslims To Get Own Homeland In Southern Philippines



MILF women during a plenum in Mindanao while rebels raise their flags. And a Muslim rebel reads the holy Koran during a break in the training in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 12, 2007) – Muslims in the southern Philippines may soon have a separate homeland, an aspiration they have longed for centuries, as the seven-year old peace talks between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Arroyo government may finally end in a treaty that will bring unity and harmony in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao.
Philippine government and MILF peace negotiators have finally agreed on the issue of issue of ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.Peace talks have been stalled since September last year after both sides failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said both sides are expected to sign the agreement on ancestral domain probably before the year ends after the two groups ended a meeting in Malaysia in November.Malaysia, an influential member of the Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the peace talks between Manila and the MILF, but it had previously threatened to pull out its contingent from the International Monitoring Team if the negotiations remain stalled.Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said they wanted progress in the peace talks.Government and rebel negotiators had previously held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur since early this year, but they failed to arrive at an agreement that would end Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines.“We have already agreed on the issue of ancestral domain and we expect to sign the agreement soon,” Iqbal told the Mindanao Examiner.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.“Basically, nothing has been changed on the scope of the Muslim homeland and we are now consolidating all other agreements in preparation for the next round of peace talks in January next year in Malaysia.”“We will tackle the political settlement and eventually, In ša Allāh, sign a peace deal and finally put an end to the problems of insurgency and start socio-economic projects in Mindanao,” Iqbal said.In ša Allāh is an Arabic term evoked to indicate hope for an aforementioned event to occur in the future. The phrase translates into English as “God willing” or “if it is God’s will”In his recent released book entitled “The Long Road To Peace,” Iqbal wrote the peace negotiations have been driven in positive direction through a combination of several factors: moving forward creatively on substantive issues, political will on both sides, able third party facilitation, a solid cease-fire mechanism combined with joint law enforcement features, aggressive international support, constructive grassroots activism and interfaith dialogue, among others.“Self-determination evokes strong emotions in the warrior and concern in established power structures. The fear of a new nation or sub-state spinning off from the main is valid, and must be conditioned by an enlightened gradualist approach.”“It seems that both sides in the negotiations support this approach not only because it avoids pitfalls of misunderstanding among constituencies that need to be transparently brought and not forced into the process, and allows the conventions that breed conflict to wash off as the Philippine government and the MIF try to reinvent the strategies of peace,” Iqbal wrote.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.The MILF said Libya also wanted to help in the peace talks and has offered to host the negotiations in Tripoli. Former Libyan ambassador Salem Adam has met with MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim and has assured the rebel group of Tripoli’s support to the peace talks.“Libya has been very supportive of our struggle to have peace in Mindanao,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said in a separate interview.He said the MILF is optimistic with the peace talks.“We are glad that the talks were fruitful and the MILF is looking forward for the resumption of the peace negotiations. We wanted peace to reign in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.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 is allowed only three terms, but she can be elected as Prime Minister should Congress, dominated by her political allies, approves a proposal to dissolve the Senate and change the system of government to Parliamentary.Arroyo, who deposed President Joseph Estrada in a people power revolution in 2001, is unpopular in the Philippines and topped the list of the most corrupt presidents in recent history, according to a Pulse Asia Survey.The survey conducted Among 1,200 respondents nationwide from October 21-31, 2007 showed that 42% think that Arroyo is the most corrupt followed by Ferdinand Marcos with 35% and Joseph Estrada with 16%. Former presidents Fidel Ramos with 5% and Corazon Aquino with 1% came in at the bottom of the list.The Philippines is also perceived to be among the world’s most corrupt countries and ranked 131st out of the 180 nations studied, with a 2.5 rating, together with Burundi, Honduras, Iran, Libya, Nepal, and Yemen, according to the annual Corruption Perceptions Index released recently by the Berlin-based organization Transparency International.

The index score ranges between 0, which is highly corrupt, and 10, which is very clean. (Mindanao Examiner)

Dec 01 2007

“The Long Road To Peace,” A Book By Salah Jubair Is Launched In Philippines: LUWARAN

Cover of the book «The Long Road To Peace,» by Salah Jubair.

SHARIFF KABUNSUAN, Philippines — “The Long Road to Peace: Inside the GRP-MILF Peace Process,” the book that deals with the over a decade-old peace gambit between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was launched at Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat town in Shariff Kabunsuan.

The ongoing peace process between the Philippine government and the largest revolutionary group that formally started on January 7, 1997 with all its ups and downs, twist and turns, and of course its envisioned end state can now be well understood and appreciated from the standpoint of an author, who is an accomplished writer, esteemed revolutionary leader, scholar, diplomat and a peace maker.

Salah Jubair, the author of this literary masterpiece, is the pen name of one of the leaders of the MILF who currently heads the MILF peace panel that negotiates with the government.

He has been involved with the MILF Peace Panel since the start of the talks in 1997 initiated by former President Fidel V. Ramos. Jubair, in his remarks, admitted that writing a book on a subject you are actually involved with may be authoritative but a daunting challenge entailing lot of objectivity and focus.

“This piece speaks of the peace process and my intention is nothing but to serve and protect the noble interest of peace though you may not agree on my views and proposition,” Jubair said.

Jubair, however, stressed that the book does not reflect the official stand and policy of the MILF but very much in line with the convictions of the MILF leadership on how shall the peace process succeed.

“Peace process, peace building and conflict resolution can never be achieved overnight there will always be challenges but not insurmountable. Yet, indeed, there is no better substitute to peaceful means in resolving armed conflict,” he said.

The content of the book culminated with the impasse on the negotiations which took placed September of last year due to some contentious points that were left unresolved by both the GRP and MILF peace panels.

Nevertheless, it illustrates how the impasse can be overcome, thus, paving the way towards realization of a just and enduring negotiated political settlement of the conflict.

The Long Road to Peace cited the gambit of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in upholding the primacy of the peace process but still it raises a great challenge for the government to do more in order fairly and squarely resolve the Bangsamoro problem and conflict in Mindanao.

The book stressed the paramount importance of the participation of the international community and civil society in resolving conflict and building peace, especially the exceptional facilitation of the Malaysian government of the peace talks and the role of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) in ensuring the respect and sustenance of the ceasefire accord on the ground.

Lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a revered writer and senior member of the MILF Peace Panel, said the book had wonderfully builds up the true account of the peace process and the various and differing perspectives, especially of the MILF, toward solving the problem and conflict in Mindanao which is for the common good of all, especially the succeeding generations.

The reader will find an immense satisfaction and desire on finishing reading the book, which stands alone in introducing vivid and truthful accounts of an ongoing colorful peace process between the Bangsamoro and Filipino nations, he said.

Institute of Bangsamoro Studies took the pride in publishing the book as its way of popularizing Bangsamoro studies as area specialization not only in policy studies but also in academic inquiries.

Prof Abhoud Lingga, Executive Director of IBS, expressed that the writings of Jubair will encourage young Moro writers to join the world of authors.

Lingga said the book is a must reference for policy makers, peace workers, public officials, researchers, media, international donor communities, military officials, academicians and negotiators.

People from all walks of life graced the launching ceremony to include the GRP Peace Negotiating Panel, international community, civil society groups, media, military, ceasefire committees, government workers, academicians, IMT, and sectoral representatives.

Secretary Silvestre Afable Jr, who is a former Chairman of the GRP Peace Negotiating Panel and now a Special Adviser to the Peace Panel, wrote the foreword of the book.

Afable, in his message, said “We have built a process that has been tried and tested against attempt to subvert and derail it. We and our allies have understood the underlying terrain in which the talks have taken place, the trajectory of our aspirations, and the tools and craftsmanship required to put them together in a common solution.”

Among the other writings of Jubair is the book “A Nation Under Endless Tyranny,” which depicts the injustices and oppression perpetrated against the Bangsamoro and the desire of the aggrieved nation to be freed from the clutches of tyranny including the imperativeness of waging an organized armed struggle and Jihad fi sabillah.

Oct 31 2007

Japan Renews Commitment To Peace In Mindanao

Japanese Ambassador Makoto Katsura and Cotabato City Mayor Muslimin Sema. (Abdullah Cusain/Mindanao Examiner Photo)

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 31, 2007) – Japan on Wednesday renewed its commitment to support the peace process in Mindanao island in the southern Philippines.

Japanese Ambassador Makoto Katsura flew to Cotabato City and met with the local mayor Muslimin Sema, also the Secretary General of the former Muslim rebel group, Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996.

Katsura also inaugurated a center that offers women training on mat weaving.

“The Ambassador stressed that they are here to help in peace-building and that their assistance is open to all and not just limited to conflict-affected areas. Ambassador Katsura stated his admiration for the natural wealth of this place and said that it could have been richer if not for the armed conflict,” Sema said.

Katsura was also accompanied by Yasunori Nakayama, the Embassy’s political minister; Yoshihisa Ishikawa, the Embassy’s First Secretary and Nagaishi Masafumi, senior advisor for reconstruction and development of Mindanao program and also a member of the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

Manila is currently negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which is fighting the past three decades for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao.

(Abdullah Cusain)

Oct 25 2007

Manila, MILF Agree To Resume Peace Talks

COTABATO CITY, Philippine (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 25, 2007) — Philippine peace negotiators and Muslim rebels ended two days of talks in Malaysia with both sides agreeing to resume a stalled negotiations aimed at ending more than three decades of fighting in Mindanao.

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.

Government and MILF peace negotiators also held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur early this month, but they failed to arrive at an agreement that would end Muslim 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.

The latest round of talks ended on Wednesday with negotiators from both sides agreeing to resume formal peace talks next month, according to a joint statement released Thursday in Malaysia.

The state-run Bernama news agency also said that the Philippines and MILF have expressed readiness to resume the next round of peace talks by the middle of next month.

“Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiators ended their two-day peace talks here on a high note with both sides expressing deep satisfaction over the successful resolution of major issues that broke the September 2006 impasse regarding the ancestral domain issue.”

”The process is firmly back on track towards holding formal talks before the end of the year, thereby concluding the negotiations,” it said, quoting a joint Philippine-MILF statement.

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.

“We are glad that the talks were fruitful and the MILF is looking forward for the resumption of the peace negotiations. We wanted peace to reign in Mindanao,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner on Thursday.

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 the strife-torn region of 16 million populations, four million which are made up of 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.

The MILF said Libya also wanted to help in the peace talks and has offered to host the negotiations in Tripoli. Former Libyan ambassador Salem Adam has met with MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim on Wednesday and has assured the rebel group of Tripoli’s support to the peace talks.

“Tripoli has offered to host the peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF and we welcome this development. Libya has been very supportive of our struggle to have peace in Mindanao,” Kabalu said.

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. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 23 2007

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

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)

Oct 05 2007

Malaysia’s Threat To Pull Out Truce Observers In Mindanao Is Real: MILF

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 05, 2007) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Friday confirmed that Malaysia has threatened to pull out its truce observers in Mindanao, probably next year, if Manila fails to make progress in the peace talks with Muslim rebels.

Malaysia said it wanted progress in the seven-year old peace talks between the MILF and the Filipino government. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Malaysia’s involvement in the mission to monitor the conflict in Mindanao might be extended but not indefinitely.

“They will be extended but the extension cannot be indefinite. So, we want to see progress in the talk,” he said.

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.

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.

“Malaysia has threatened really to pull out from the IMT unless the stalled peace talks move on and we could not imagine how the peace process would be without the IMT and without a third country brokering the negotiations.”

“The peace process could be imperiled once the IMT pulls out in Mindanao or Malaysia stops mediating in the negotiations. But the MILF is prepared for any situation, bad or worse,” a senior MILF rebel leader, who asked not to be identified, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Manila has been negotiating peace with the MILF, the county’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao, whose 16 million populations include about 4 million Muslims.

The region had been embroiled in political dispute and power struggle between the government and rebels for more than three decades.

Filipino government officials have been trying to downplay Malaysia’s statement and blamed the media for the inaccurate news.

“Malaysia has contributed immensely to our peace efforts and we are confident it will continue to be with us and other nations in our peace and development work,” Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential peace adviser, said in a statement on Friday.

Dureza said the peace talks are progressing, but the MILF said they were not. The MILF accused President Gloria 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, another senior leader, 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.

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.

Last week, Philippine and MILF peace negotiators held secret talks in Kuala Lumpur, but both sides failed to arrive at 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 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.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF and signed a truce, but negotiations were slow and rebels said the government is only using the talks to prevent hostilities from erupting in Mindanao until her term ends. (Mindanao Examiner)

Oct 01 2007

Manila Fails To Sign Accord On Secret Talks With Muslim Rebels

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)

Sep 01 2007

Philippine Muslim Rebels Urge Arroyo To Solve Mindanao Insurgency

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 01 Sept) — Philippine Muslim rebels on Saturday urged President Gloria Arroyo to resolve the problems in Mindanao before her terms ends three years from now.President Arroyo opened peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, in 2001, but there have been no major agreement to end the insurgency in the troubled region, except for a cease-fire accord.But despite the truce, sporadic fighting between rebels and soldiers still continue in Mindanao with both sides accusing each other of violating the accord. In July, rebel forces killed 14 soldiers in a fierce battle in Basilan island after security forces encroached inside an MILF stronghold while pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants tied to Al-Qaeda.The MILF is fighting for independence in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations includes about 4 million Filipino Muslims.The MILF accused Arroyo of wasting away six 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,” said Jun Mantawil, a senior rebel leader.He said the MILF has asked Manila to be serious in the peace talks to solve the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao and put an end to sufferings of people in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region.Manila postponed peace talks last month in Kuala Lumpur, saying, it was not prepared to meet with the MILF panel.Malaysia is brokering peace negotiations between the Filipino government and the MILF, but talks ended in September in Kuala Lumpur with both sides failing to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain – which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.“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,” Mantawil said.Ancestral domain is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement with the Philippine government.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.

Manila previously offered the MILF 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 MILF flatly rejected the offer and insisted on self-determination.

(Mindanao Examiner)

Aug 21 2007

MILF Rebels Assail Delay In Philippine Peace Talks

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 21 Aug) – Philippine Muslim rebels on Tuesday assailed the Arroyo government for delaying peace talks aimed at ending more than 30 years of bloody insurgency in the strife-torn region of Mindanao.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Manila canceled Wednesday’s peace talks in Malaysia and the last minute decision caught rebel leaders by surprise.

“We are really caught unaware by the government’s decision to cancel the peace talks. The problem now is not with the MILF, not even Malaysia but the Philippine government,” Mohagher Iqbal, the chief MILF peace negotiator, told the Mindanao Examiner.

It was the second time the peace talks have been canceled by the Filipino government. It also postponed a scheduled peace talks in May because of national elections.

Malaysia is brokering the peace talks, but negotiations ended last year in Kuala Lumpur with no concrete agreement. Both sides failed to agree on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain.

Ancestral domain 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.

Iqbal said the Manila apparently did not submit its guidelines for the resumption of the peace talks that led to its cancellation. He said there is a need to resume the peace talks and tackle the issue on ancestral domain.

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.

Government peace negotiators previously offered the MILF 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 MILF rejected the offer, saying, it would not settle for anything less than total Muslim control over those areas. “Our position remains,” Iqbal said.

The Organization of Islamic Conference, which is supporting the peace talks, also sent dozens of truce observers to Mindanao.

The group is composed of soldiers and policemen from Brunei, Libya and Malaysia. Japan also sent a representative to join the truce observers, but Iqbal said their stay would end next month unless peace negotiators renewed an accord that would allow them another year.

“We want to resolve the problems affecting Mindanao peacefully and this can only be achieved through the peace process, but if the Philippine government decides to pull out from the peace negotiation, then we will have to evaluate the situation and adapt measures relative to the MILF as a revolutionary organization,” Iqbal said.

Peace talks between the government and MILF started in January 1997, but the absence of a neutral third party bogged down the initiative.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a cease-fire agreement, but despite the truce fighting still continues with the two sides accusing each other of breaking the accord.

However, in February 2003, despite the avowed all-peace policy of President Gloria Arroyo, an all-out war was again declared against the rebels, but both sides later agreed to resume talks.

President George Bush said the United States is willing to pour more development aid in Mindanao should the MILF signed a peace deal with Manila, a key U.S. ally in the global war on terrorism. The MILF also praised Bush for his commitment to Mindanao.

But in March, fighting between security and rebel forces erupted in central Mindanao, killing dozens of people from both sides and sending tens of thousands of civilian fleeing their homes. The MILF said the fighting had nearly disrupted the peace talks.

Manila also implicated the MILF in the beheading of ten of 14 soldiers killed in fierce fighting in Basilan island last month. And the military and police linked the MILF to terrorism, an accusation rebel leaders strongly denied.

Arroyo said economic development remains her administration’s principal weapon in the fight against terrorism and the pursuit of peace and progress in Mindanao, particularly Basilan and Sulu.

“Economic development, which we draw from the arsenal of democracy, remains our principal weapon against terrorism,” she said.

Television network GMA reported Tuesday that Arroyo said peace talks with MILF rebels would resume next month. The announcement was made before the start of the National Security Council meeting in Manila, it said.

The MILF broke away in 1978 with the larger Moro National Liberation Front which signed a peace accord with Manila in 1996. (Mindanao Examiner)

Jul 13 2007

Hundreds Of Troops Arrive In Basilan Island, MILF Now In High Alert

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 14 Jul) — Hundreds of Filipino troops have arrived in the southern island of Basilan to pursue Muslim militants blamed for the killing and beheading of 14 soldiers.»The soldiers arrived in Basilan from Jolo island and they are now pursuing the Abu Sayyaf,» Maj. Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner on Saturday.He said more soldiers will be deployed on the island, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.The Philippine military blamed the killings to the al-Qaeda affiliate Abu Sayyaf group and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with the Arroyo government.The MILF have also put its forces in highest alert following the bloody clashes that also killed five of its fighters, according to Mohagher Iqbal, the group’s chief peace negotiator. “We are in heightened alert because of possible retaliation by the Philippine military,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.President Gloria Arroyo ordered troops to hunt those responsible in the savage attack. “The government will account for the perpetrators of this heinous attack in line with the rule of law, through the mechanisms of the peace process. The Armed Forces are duty-bound to hunt down and arrest those who treacherously killed and beheaded the soldiers,” Arroyo said.The MILF said the soldiers violated a fragile six-year old truce when they entered a known rebel stronghold in Al-Barka town without proper coordination. It said rebels defended their stronghold thinking the soldiers would mount an attack.Peace talks were stalled since last year after MILF, which is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland, rejected a government proposal for a limited autonomy.Marines Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief, said the soldiers were searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic clergy Giancarlo Bossi when some 500 Abu Sayyaf and MILF gunmen attacked them, sparking daylong clashes that also killed at least 30 of the ambushers.The MILF said it recovered weapons from the slain soldiers and would not return the firearms to the military, despite repeated demands.“We will not return the weapons. The fighting was a legitimate encounter after the military violated the cease-fire (agreement),” Iqbal said.Among the weapons seized by rebels were four machine guns, a bazooka, five M203 grenade launchers, two M14 rifles, five M16 rifles, two night vision goggles and a pair of radio transceivers.On Friday, acting Defense chief Norberto Gonzales said the government will not allow the attackers go unpunished. “We will not allow those responsible (in the beheading of the soldiers) unpunished,” he told the dzRH radio network in Manila.Gonzales blamed the MILF for the attack. “We have a peace process and then they will attack the soldiers. And we saw (on television reports and news videos) what really happened and we will not allow those responsible in the killings to go unpunished,” he said.“If they want to pull out (from the peace talks) then go ahead,” Gonzales said after being told in the interview that the MILF may threaten to pull out from the peace negotiations if Manila insists on blaming the rebel for violating a six-year old cease-fire accord.Police and military authorities tagged Akiddin Abdusallam, an MILF leader, as behind the kidnapping of the 57-year old Bossi, from Milan, a charge strongly denied by Iqbal, saying, Abdusallam was kicked out long time ago because of his criminal past and has then joined the Abu Sayyaf.Arroyo said the MILF must stand apart from the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the spate of kidnappings of foreigners and terrorism in the South.“If the perpetrators are Abu Sayyaf, the MILF must stand apart from these terrorists and allow their pursuit and interdiction by government forces. If MILF forces are culpable, then they must be accounted for by the cease-fire committees and be brought to justice,” Arroyo said, adding, “There can be no excuses or alibis for these acts of savagery.”Although the MILF admitted responsibility for the attack, it denied beheading the soldiers.Sattar Alih, head of the MILF cease-fire monitoring team in Basilan island, said rebel forces withdrew from the battle scene, leaving the bodies of soldiers behind, after military and rebels agreed to a cease-fire.It was unknown who were behind the decapitation, but intelligence sources in Basilan have also implicated unnamed politicians who allegedly supplied the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions during the fighting.Their private armies also fought against the military forces side-by-side with the MILF and that two gunmen had died in the skirmishes.Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, Philippine Marines chief, said they will pursue the Abu Sayyaf even if the militants are hiding inside so-called MILF territories.“Definitely, we will pursue the Abu Sayyaf wherever they are in Basilan,” Allaga said.Military reports said soldiers have wounded a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon and his son in the fighting. Isnilon is on the terror lists of the Philippines and United States and was implicated in the kidnappings of U.S. citizens and foreigners in the restive South.Alivio said the search for Bossi is ongoing in Basilan. “We have persistent reports that Bossi is being held in Al-Barka town and the MILF is preventing us from searching the priest,” he said.

Last week, three undated photographs of Bossi in captivity were sent through cell phone to his friend Spanish priest Angel Calvo in Zamboanga City. The military said a former Basilan town mayor was the source of the photos. It was unclear how the former official was able to get the photos. (Mindanao Examiner)

Jul 13 2007

Basilan Clash Adds Crack On Already Fragile Peace In Southern Philippines

MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / 13 Jul) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), have put its forces in highest alert following a bloody clashes between soldiers and guerrillas that killed 4 dozen people from both sides.Fourteen soldiers were killed and ten of those who died in Tuesday fighting were decapitated after troops searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi strayed into a territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Al-Barka town.At least 30 gunmen were also killed in the clashes, said Marines Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief. He said troops fought about 500 MILF and Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terror network.The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, admitted the attack and said rebels were defending their stronghold.President Gloria Arroyo ordered troops to hunt those responsible in the gruesome attack.»The government will account for the perpetrators of this heinous attack in line with the rule of law, through the mechanisms of the peace process. The Armed Forces are duty-bound to hunt down and arrest those who treacherously killed and beheaded the soldiers,» Arroyo said on Thursday.On Friday, acting Defense chief Norberto Gonzales said the government will not allow the attackers go unpunished. “We will not allow those responsible (in the beheading of the soldiers) unpunished,” he told the dzRH radio network in Manila.Gonzales blamed the MILF for the attack. “We have a peace process and then they will attack the soldiers. And we saw (on television reports and news videos) what really happened and we will not allow those responsible in the killings to go unpunished,” he said.“If they want to pull out (from the peace talks) then go ahead,” Gonzales said after being told in the interview that the MILF may threaten to pull out from the peace negotiations if Manila insists on blaming the rebel for violating a six-year old cease-fire accord.Mohagher Iqbal, the chief MILF peace negotiator, accused the military of violating the truce after some 100 marine soldiers encroached inside a rebel stronghold in the guise of searching for Bossi, who was kidnapped June 10 in Zamboanga Sibugay province.Iqbal said rebel forces are in heightened alert because of government pronouncements that troops would launch new offensive in Basilan. «The MILF is in high alert right now,» he said.Peace talks were stalled since last year after MILF, which is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland, rejected a government proposal for a limited autonomy.Police and military authorities also tagged Akiddin Abdusallam, an MILF leader, is holding Bossi for ransom, a charge strongly denied by Iqbal, saying, the kidnapper is a member of the Abu Sayyaf.Arroyo said the MILF must stand apart from the Abu Sayyaf group, blamed for the spate of kidnappings of foreigners and terrorism in the South.“If the perpetrators are Abu Sayyaf, the MILF must stand apart from these terrorists and allow their pursuit and interdiction by government forces. If MILF forces are culpable, then they must be accounted for by the ceasefire committees and be brought to justice,” Arroyo said, adding, “There can be no excuses or alibis for these acts of savagery.”Intelligence sources in Basilan have also implicated unnamed politicians who were allegedly supplying the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions.Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, Philippine Marines chief, said they will pursue the Abu Sayyaf even if the militants are hiding inside so-called MILF territories.“Definitely, we will pursue the Abu Sayyaf wherever they are in Basilan,” Allaga said.Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, a regional army chief, said more troops will be sent to Basilan to pursue the attackers and search for Bossi. One battalion of soldiers from the island of Jolo is on its way to Basilan, he said.Military reports said soldiers have wounded a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon and his son and killed at least 30 MILF gunmen. The MILF said only four rebels were killed and seven others injured in the fighting.Isnilon is on the terror lists of the Philippines and United States and was implicated in the kidnappings of U.S. citizens and foreigners in the restive South.Alivio said the search for Bossi is ongoing in Basilan. “We have persistent reports that Bossi is being held in Al-Barka town and the MILF is preventing us from searching the priest,” he said.

Last week, three undated photographs of Bossi in captivity were sent through cell phone to his friend Spanish priest Angel Calvo in Zamboanga City. The military said a former Basilan town mayor was the source of the photos. It was unclear how the former official was able to get the photos. (Mindanao Examiner)

Jun 26 2007

Mindanao Council Holds Peace Forum In South RP’s Jolo Island

JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Jun) — A peace advocacy forum sponsored by Mindanao Peace and Development Council (MPDC) was recently held at the Sulu State College.The forum with a theme «Updates on GRP-MILF peace process» was spearheaded by the MILF provincial committee under the chairmanship of Hj. Mahmur Estino, of Northern Sulu and Ahiri Ajiji, of Southern Sulu. The weekend affair started at with motorcade of some 250 vehicles around the town of Jolo and participated by hundreds of people from the different municipalities in the province of Sulu.Different speakers rendered their respective topics during forum. Jun Mantawil, head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace panel secretariat, spoke on the updates of the GRP-MILF peace process, while Bobby Maulana Alonto discussed the role of the professionals in nation building.It was followed by speaker Abdullah Camlian who explained the MILF-Moro National Liberation Front unification process.

Mantawil later met with provincial committee members of the MILF in Sulu and discussed about the issues and concerns regarding the MILF struggle for self determination. (Contributed by Hassan Hatab)

Jun 16 2007

Catholic Priest Heads RP’s Peace Panel With Muslim Rebels In South

MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / 16 Jun) – The Philippines on Saturday appointed a Roman Catholic priest as chief peace negotiator with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).Fr Eliseo Mercado, Jr., OMI, replaced Secy. Sylvestre Afable as the head of the government peace panel.Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza said the priest is an experienced peace builder in Mindanao. “There will be a seamless transition in the changing of the guard in the GRP peace panel,” Dureza, who once headed the government peace panel, said.»The assumption of Fr Mercado as the new panel chair will ensure a seamless transition and a continuity in the efforts to move forward the peace process,” he told reporters.Afable’s resignation came barely a day after President Gloria Arroyo asked all her Cabinet leaders to tender their resignation in an apparent revamp.There was no immediate statement from Mercado, who is now based in the Vatican and suffers from a heart disease.Rebel leaders said Afable’s resignation is a setback to the six-year old peace talks, but also welcomed the appointment of the priest, who heads several peace organizations in Mindanao.Malaysia is brokering the peace talks, but negotiations ended last year in Kuala Lumpur with no concrete agreement. Both sides failed to agree on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain.Ancestral domain 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.“We welcome Fr Mercado’s appointment as chief peace negotiator and we are really hoping for an early resumption of the peace talks,” Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, told the regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.Iqbal said there is a need to resume the peace talks and tackle the issue on ancestral domain.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.Government peace negotiators previously offered the MILF 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 MILF rejected the offer, saying, it would not settle for anything less than total Muslim control over those areas. “Our position remains,” Iqbal said.

The Organization of Islamic Conference, which is supporting the peace talks, also sent dozens of truce observers to Mindanao. The group is composed of soldiers and policemen from Brunei, Libya and Malaysia. Japan also sent a representative to join the truce observers. (Mark Navales and Juan Magtanggol)

Jun 13 2007

Sulu Hosts Peace Forum

JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 14 Jun) – Peace advocates are expected to flock to the southern Filipino island of Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago to attend a one-day forum by the Mindanao Peace and Development Council.Yahyah Hayudini of the Mindanao Peace and Development Council said the forum will be held at the Sulu State College gymnasium on Saturday.Representatives from the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, and the Malaysia-led International Monitoring Team, are also expected to attend the forum and speak on the progress of the peace talks.The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila.Religious leaders, civil workers and the academe and professionals have been invited to join the forum, which is open to public.The MILF said it is supporting the forum and that its local provincial committees and those from Zamboanga City and other nearby areas have been working closely with their counterparts from the government peace panel to ensure the success of the public meeting.

“The people of Sulu are very much thankful to the Mindanao Peace and Development council for sponsoring this forum. To them, this is a historic event considering that there are representatives coming from the government of Malaysia, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” a local Muslim leader said. (Hassan Hatab)

Apr 11 2007

Fighting Flares Up In Jolo Island, 2 Soldiers Killed

JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 12 Apr) – Two soldiers were reported killed in a clash with Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Filipino island of Jolo, officials said Thursday.Officials said the fighting erupted on the village of Buanza in Indanan town on Wednesday where more than 100 militants were holed out. There were no immediate reports of casualties on the Abu Sayyaf side.The fighting, described as fierce, lasted over two hours. The gunmen, led by Abu Sayyaf leader Radullan Sahiron, split into smaller groups and fled to the hinterlands.Other reports said renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front aided the gunmen in the fighting.There were no immediate reports of fresh clashes, but more troops were sent on Thursday to the town to track down the militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.On Monday. Government soldiers raided a hideout of the Jemaah Islamiya in Jolo’s Talipao town and captured three local militants.But one of two Jemaah Islamiya bombers, Umar Patek, and a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon, had escaped the raiders in the village of Kanlimot, a known stronghold of the local terrorist group.One soldier was also wounded in a separate clash Monday in Bakong village in Patikul town on the other side of the island. Besides Patek, soldiers were also hunting down Dulmatin and Malaysian terror suspect Zulkifli bin Hir and other Jemaah Islamiya militants hiding on the island under the protection of the Abu Sayyaf.Jakarta tagged both Patek and Dulmatin as behind the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australian holiday-makers.While Zulkifli bin Hir, an engineer trained in the U.S. allegedly heads the Kumpulun Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM) terrorist organization and is a member of Jemaah Islamiya central command.Washington offered as much as $10 million reward for the capture of Dulmatin and $ 5 million for Zulkifli and Hapilon and another $1 million bounty for Patek.The latest fighting broke out ahead of a planned peace advocacy forum in Jolo island on the government peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

The MILF is fighting the past three decades for a separate homeland in Mindanao.

(With a report from Hassan Hatab, Special for the Mindanao Examiner)

Mar 27 2007

Gov’t Policy Statement To Boost Peace Talks With Mindanao Rebels

ILIGAN CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Mar) – Top Philippine military officials are expected to issue a policy statement that will further strengthen the ongoing peace process in Mindanao.Major General Mohammad Dolorfino, chairman of the government’s Ad hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), said that the Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff, General Hermogenes Esperon, will himself issue the statement that upholds the primacy of the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).Dolorfino revealed this during a joint peace advocacy forum here at the weekend with the International Monitoring Team and the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the Philippine government and MILF. Local government and village officials also attended the forum.»General Esperon will issue new guidelines on the primacy of the peace process that must be observed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines», Dolorfino said. «Our Chief of Staff has always upheld the supremacy of the peace process,» he told the Mindanao Examiner.The Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade and the Philippine National Police in Northern Mindanao organized the advocacy drive in line with the efforts of the AHJAG, CCCH and IMT to keep abreast the respective armed forces with the developments on the ongoing peace talks with the MILF and observance of the cease-fire agreement.Dolorfino did not give additional details about the policy statement, saying, the final draft of the new guidelines will be reviewed and discussed with Secy. Jesus Dureza, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP).But he pointed out that it will be a holistic approach framed towards the realization of a comprehensive, just, enduring peace resolution of the conflicts in Southern Philippines.He said the AFP had been conducting military operations for many years but the problem still remains, adding, that «using security force cannot solve or end the conflict in Mindanao. We cannot allow achievement of tactical objectives at the expense of the demise of the peace process.»”Military action and success must be equated with its coherence to the strategic policy and objective of the national government that is putting a just end to the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),» Dolorfino said.Appealing to all parties to collaborate efforts in attaining peace in the Bangsamoro region, Dolorfino reiterated the commitment of the government for the successful peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. “Instead of cursing the darkness, let us as well light a candle for peace and development,» he said.Dolorfino said it was the first time that the MILF joined the peace advocacy drive.”We are happy with the result of the peace advocacy drive because it is the first time that the MILF chairman, Murad Ibrahim, allowed our MILF counterpart to join us in this important endeavor. From now on, we will conduct peace advocacy together with the MILF and the IMT, the AHHAG and the CCCH,” he said.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate Islamic state. (Hassan Hatab, with reports from Merlyn Manos and Mark Navales)

Mar 15 2007

MILF Wins, Decorated Army Chief Is Out!

FACE OFF. Philippine Army Major General Nehemias Pajarito, left, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front deputy chief Mohagher Iqbal. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

PAGADIAN CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 15 Mar) – The Philippine military pulled out its commander of army in central Mindanao and assigned him to head security forces in the Zamboanga Peninsula on the western part of the troubled region.

Major General Nehemias Pajarito, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, has been ordered to head the First Infantry Division in Pulacan town in Zamboanga del Sur province, his spokesman Lt. Col. Julieto Ando said.

“The change in command is a normal routine in the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he told the Mindanao Examiner by phone from the army headquarters in Awang town in Maguindanao province.

Major General Raymundo Ferrer, the current commander of the First Infantry Division, would take over as new chief of the 6th Infantry Division.

The sudden change in army leaderships in Mindanao came barely a week after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, accused Pajarito of attacking rebel forces despite a six-year old cease-fire agreement.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator, on Monday told the Mindanao Examiner that he was informed by the government peace panel that Pajarito would be replaced by Ferrer.

“I was told that General Pajarito would be replaced. Pajarito is the cause of all these troubles and fighting in Mindanao the past months,” he said.

Pajarito could not be reached for comment, but he is one of the most decorated commanders in the southern Philippines and has been largely credited by civilians for keeping the peace in the troubled region.

Ferrer confirmed the report and said he would assume as new commander of the 6th Infantry Division on Friday. “We swapped positions and I am the new 6th Division commander,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Fighting the past months in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces have killed and wounded dozens of people.

The MILF blamed Pajarito for the skirmishes and warned the continued fighting threatens the peace talks.

Iqbal accused government soldiers of attacking rebel forces the past months, breaking a 2001 truce agreement. The attacks killed and wounded scores of rebels and drove thousands of Muslim villagers fleeing their homes, he said.

“The fighting and the continued attack of government forces are now threatening the cease-fire agreement. It is now under threat and in danger of collapsing unless the government acts swiftly to save the peace process,” Iqbal said.

But Ando blamed the rebels, saying, they were attacking government troops and detachments without provocation.

“We are not the problem. The rebels are attacking us and the MILF violated the cease-fire agreement many times in the past,” he said.

Iqbal accused the 6th Infantry Division of derailing the peace talks.

“Troops are encroaching in our areas and government planes were bombing our positions and we cannot do anything, but defend ourselves and our people,” Iqbal said.

He said clashes were also reported in the provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan.

Government troops, backed by helicopters and war planes, were attacking MILF forces, in the guise of pursuing Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants.

Iqbal said soldiers also killed two Muslim civilians – a grandmother Taute Taha and teenager Rasul Balat – in Maguindanao’s Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a cease-fire agreement, but despite the truce fighting still continues with the two sides accusing each other of breaking the accord.

Last week, MILF and military forces seized more than two dozens soldiers and rebels from both sides after a near firefight in Lumba Bayabao town in Lanao del Sur province.

All the hostages were freed three hours later after a tense negotiation between senior rebel and military commanders.

Arroyo on Monday met with top officials of the Cabinet Cluster on National Security in Manila to discuss the worsening situation in Mindanao.

Arroyo she decided to step up all measures to enforce the law, preserve the atmosphere of peace and stability, and advance the ongoing peace talks.

She ordered the Department of National Defense and the AFP to review and amend the current guidelines on the “Primacy of the Peace Process” and strictly adhere to the cease-fire accord without impairing the operational flexibility and quick response of the AFP in countering threats of terrorism, insurgency and criminality.

“All commanders in the field are enjoined to be constantly aware of the strategic implications of tactical actions in the proximity of MILF areas. I have also ordered restraint in the use of artillery and aerial bombing in the conduct of military operations,” Arroyo said.

MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim on Wednesday praised Arroyo for her assurance to pursue the peace process. «The MILF remains optimistic on the peace negotiations,» Murad said and pledged to reciprocate the government’s peace gesture.

The MILF is the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-rule in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

Mar 14 2007

AFP Assures Support To Mindanao Peace Process



Government soldiers convince Muslim villagers to return home in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province in southern Philippines after days of sporadic fighting between military and rebel forces subsided. The Philippine military assures its full support to the peace process in Mindanao. And a young MILF fighter shows his firepower. (Mindanao Examiner Photo/Mark Navales)
COTABATO CITY (Addieric Almine / 14 Mar) – The Philippine military assured its full support to the government peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in the troubled South.The assurance was made by Maj. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, chairman of the government Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), during a recent dialogue attended by the MILF and civil society groups led by Mindanao People’s Caucus.

Von Al Haq represented the MILF in the meeting that was also attended by Malaysian Brig. Gen. Dato Zainal bin Abdurahman, deputy head of mission of the InternationalMonitoring Team (IMT); and Theodora Casipe, of the local government and various leaders from North Cotabato’s Midsayap town.

”The cease-fire agreement is still intact and the mechanism is strongly in place. Such agreement will be more strengthened if everyone concerned will work together,” Gurrea said.

Fighting between rebels and soldiers erupted this month in Midsayap town that left dozens of people dead and wounded from both sides. The MILF said land disputes triggered the fighting in Midsayap between rebels and armed villagers, but soldiers later joined the clashes, sparking fierce gun battle.

Al-Haq appealed for more cooperation to settle land disputes. Zainal, on the hand, assured the IMT will maintain its presence in Mindanao in order to help preserve the peace in the region.

“Tolerance is important in addressing conflict situations,” he said.Casipe said the dialogue was held to further strengthen peace partnership between the government, the rebels and the international truce observers.

Lawyer Mary Anne Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao People’s Caucus, called for the strict observance of the peace agreements.Al Senturias, of the Mindanao People’s Peace Movement, proposed for the immediate withdrawal of troops away from the area of conflict in Midsayap and the military agreed.

Pajarito said they would gradually reposition troops, but will «remain faithful to the sovereignty and security of the masses.»

Gurrrea said soldiers and rebels and truce observers earlier held a joint medical mission in Alamada in North Cotabato as part of the town’s Women’s Month Celebration called CEDAW: Kabahayan ng Kababihan in partnership with the local government and National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women.

CEDAW stands for Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was adopted in 1979 by the UN GeneralAssembly, described as an international bill of rights for women. (With a report from Mark Navales)

Mar 10 2007

MILF Beats War Drum, Peace Talks In Danger!

MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / 10 Mar) – Philippine Muslim rebels warned Saturday that sporadic fighting is threatening a fragile six-year old cease-fire in the troubled island of Mindanao, south of Manila.The MILF accused government soldiers of attacking rebel forces in Mindanao the past months, breaking a 2001 truce agreement. The attacks killed and wounded scores of rebels and drove thousands of Muslim villagers fleeing their homes.“The fighting and the continued attack of government forces are now threatening the cease-fire agreement. It is now under threat and in danger of collapsing unless the government acts swiftly to save the peace process,” a senior MILF leader, MohagherIqbal, told the Mindanao Examiner.Manila is currently negotiating peace with the MILF, which is fighting the past three decades for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao, home to about 4 million Muslims.Iqbal, also the chief MILF peace negotiator, said the sporadic clashes continue in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province. He accused the Army’s 6th Infantry Division of derailing the peace talks.“Troops are encroaching in our areas and government planes were bombing our positions and we cannot do anything, but defend ourselves and our people,” Iqbal said.He said clashes were also reported in the provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan. Government troops, backed by helicopters and war planes, were attacking MILF forces, in the guise of pursuing Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants.Iqbal said soldiers also killed two Muslim civilians – a grandmother Taute Taha and teenager Rasul Balat – in Maguindanao’s Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, army spokesman, denied all accusations and blamed the MILF for the violence.“There is no one to blame, but the MILF. Rebel forces have been harassing our soldiers and attacked military posts. The rebels violated the cease-fire agreement,” Ando told the Mindanao Examiner.And said troops were only defending themselves from rebel attacks.President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a cease-fire agreement, but despite the truce fighting still continues with the two sides accusing each other of breaking the accord.

Malaysia is brokering the peace talks, but negotiations ended last year in Kuala Lumpur with no concrete agreement. Both sides failed to agree on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain.

Ancestral domain 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 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.

Government peace negotiators previously offered the MILF 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 MILF rejected the offer, saying, it would not settle for anything less than total Muslim control over those areas.

The Organization of Islamic Conference, which is supporting the peace process, also sent dozens of truce observers to Mindanao. The group is composed of soldiers and policemen from Brunei, Libya and Malaysia. Japan also sent a representative to join the truce observers.

(Mindanao Examiner)

Mar 05 2007

MILF Fighting Erupts In Southern Philippines

COTABATO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 06 Mar) – Fierce fighting between government troops and Muslim rebels broke out in the southern Philippines, leaving at least 2 people dead, as hundreds of villagers flee their homes.Two army soldiers were also wounded in the clash that erupted before midnight in North Cotabato’s Midsayap town after some 300 fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) simultaneously attacked two military posts, said Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division.“One of our soldiers is killed and two others are wounded in the rebel attack. The MILF violated the truce. They harassed our troops without provocation. We have filed a protest with the government peace panel about this attack,” Ando told the Mindanao Examiner.He said MILF leader Amiril Umbra Kato was behind the attack.But the MILF denied the accusations and said the fighting broke out after troops encroached inside rebel territories in the village of Lomobog and Cabigasan.“The soldiers are to be blamed about all these skirmishes. They encroached inside our areas and it is a violation of the cease-fire agreement. We have also filed a protest and called on the international truce observers to investigate the fighting,” a rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said in a separate interview.He said government planes bombed MILF targets in the area and killing one rebel.Kabalu said hundreds of villagers have fled their homes for fear that the fighting would escalate. “Muslim villagers are fleeing; hundreds of them have abandoned their homes because of the military offensive,” he said.The fighting erupted just as government and rebel leaders were trying to resume peace negotiations in an effort to end more than three decades of bloody battle in the South, home to about 4 million Muslims.Manila opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, which is fighting for independence in the troubled, but mineral-rich Mindanao island.

Malaysia is brokering peace talks between the Filipino government and the MILF, but negotiations ended in September in Kuala Lumpur with both sides failing to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain.

Ancestral domain 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 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.

Government peace negotiators previously offered the MILF 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 MILF rejected the offer. (Mindanao Examiner)

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