MILF rebels coy on Wikileaks cable, US help

by Jojo Malig, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Aug 02 2011 06:10 PM | Updated as of Sep 03 2011 09:08 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has declined to comment on a Wikileaks cable from the US embassy in Manila stating that the separatist group looks up to Washington to help end the decades-long fighting in Mindanao.

MILF secretariat chairperson Muhammad Ameen said on the rebel group's website Tuesday that he is not authorized to comment on the leaked US diplomatic cable.

"Let us wait for the proper time to say on it," he said.

The Wikileaks cable, dated October 19, 2009, revealed that then US chargé d'affaires Leslie Bassett and other US embassy officials met MILF leader Murad Ebrahim, vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, other high-ranking officials, and commanders of the rebel group at the heavily-guarded Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao last February 19, 2009.

 Bassett was accompanied by US Agency for International Development (USAID) acting mission director Elzadia Washington, defense attaché Col. Tony Senci, and political officer Michael Pignatello, according to the confidential cable sent by then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenny.
 
Kenney quoted Ebrahim as having said that "the US is the only country we feel can push peaceful resolution of the (Mindanao) conflict."

"We look for a more active role of the U.S. in order to push the peace process," Ebrahim added. "You are aware of the background of the problem.  The influence of America in the Philippines (is one that) no other country can match."

MILF wants more from US

He also expressed concern that the development of poor communities in the region could mean an end to the MILF.

"In a surprisingly  frank and revealing comment, Murad expressed concern that development assistance alone, absent political advances, could 'purge the insurgency' of its momentum, further demonstrating the need for development and political progress to go hand-in-hand," the cable said.

"In a 90-minute meeting attended by top MILF Central Committee members and MILF armed forces commanders, Chairman Murad encouraged the US to move beyond its substantial development assistance to provide more political support to the peace process," it added.

US officials then told the rebel group that they support a peaceful solution to the conflict. 

"[Basett] also reminded Chairman Murad of the need for the MILF to take action against terrorism in Mindanao and urged him to support efforts to rescue a recently kidnapped Irish Catholic priest," the cable stated.

'Friends of the Bangsamoro'

MILF rebels met the US embassy officials with an honor guard in the military camp, which can only be reached through a poorly maintained dirt trail off a main road just north of Cotabato City, the report said. 

"Men young and old in Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) camouflage uniforms stood at intervals in formation on the two kilometer stretch from the main road to the camp's Bangsamoro Development Agency office, with guns and rocket launchers at their sides," the cable added.

Murad called the Americans the "friends of the Bangsamoro," and thanked them for supporting the peace process, "embodied in exchanges of letters during the past six years with US officials."

Reject terrorism

During the meeting, Basett told Murad that the US sees MILF's commitment to peace "at face value." She said the rebel group must reject terrorism "not just in words, but in deeds, as well."

She told the MILF leaders that US troops deployed in Mindanao under the Visiting Forces Agreement between Washington and Manila only allows them to train and support Philippine government troops.

"US forces were not participating in combat operations or operating unilaterally," the cable said.

The US officials also asked the MILF to prevent terrorists and kidnap-for-ransom groups from operating in the region.

MILF peace panel senior member Michael Mastura, who attended the meeting, said Washington should train its sights on Indonesia and not the Philippines when it comes to terrorism.

"Mastura noted that the MILF had a clear position against terrorism and insisted that Indonesia, not the MILF, should be the target of US terrorism concerns.  The issue of security and counterterrorism was, after all, separate from the MILF quest for autonomy, and had more to do with the Indonesians who came to Mindanao than with the MILF," the cable said.

Mastura also claimed that the MILF had signed an agreement with the Philippine government to go after terrorist groups operating in rebel-held territory.