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Political settlement between govt, MILF possible in one year

Posted By: Chris Costuya On:


CAGAYAN DE ORO City, Feb. 8, 2011—With peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) back on track, the government’s chief peace negotiator is optimistic that a “politically negotiated settlement” can be reached within one year.

Lawyer Marvic Leonen, however, was quick to stress that the one-year period is not a deadline.

“We think if the MILF remains sincere and is open to being pragmatic but at the same time principled in their stance, one year is a reasonable period to come to a fundamental agreement on a politically negotiated settlement. We are cautious however not to state deadlines in terms of periods or number of meetings. The realities of political negotiations and unforeseen events should allow the negotiating parties some room to adjust and accommodate,” he said in an emailed statement.

Leonen said that the peace panels are now preparing to depart for Malaysia for the resumption of the peace talks on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We leave for Kuala Lumpur very soon to attend the 20th exploratory talks with the representatives of the MILF,” he said.

He also said that the government panel is “seriously concerned” with Commander Ameril Umbra Kato’s split with the MILF leadership and setting up a new armed group as this will “endanger our ceasefire mechanisms.”

“Also, the separate existence of another armed group espousing the same grievances, if true, may significantly put in question the ability of the current leadership of the MILF to deliver on any commitment that is negotiated with the government. We know that this is understood by the MILF,” he added.

However, he said the government panel expects from the MILF a “full report” on this issue.

Kato, commander of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the armed wing of the MILF, separated from the MILF over such issue as the alleged revisionist policy the MILF leadership under Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and the abandonment of the Front’s original stance of independence.

He had allegedly organized the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“The possibility of their existence was known to our police and military forces. They have kept their usual state of defensive readiness. We have monitored this development for the past months and raised this as a concern with the MILF panel during our informal talks. We agreed that we will be given a full report of the relationship of Commander Ameril Umbra Kato and his armed following during this week’s meeting,” Leonen said.

“We would rather get clarification from their official representatives before we state our official position on this matter,” he added.

Aside from full report on the MILF’s relationship with Kato, also in this week’s talks’ agenda include the extension of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) tasked to maintain the ceasefire between the two groups, as well as the revival of the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute (NLMI) – MILF’s training mechanism for Moro youth.

Negotiations between the government and the MILF, which started in 1997, hit a snag in 2008 when the Supreme Court barred the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the two parties that would’ve allowed for the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The junking of the agreement — and the subsequent SC ruling branding it as unconstitutional — triggered violent acts from several BIAF commanders, Kato among them.

The MILF has been fighting for an independent Muslim homeland on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao since the 1970s. The conflict has claimed 150,000 lives so far, according to the government. (Bong D. Fabe)


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