Philippines reviewing peace process before talks

By Manny Mogato, Reuters

Posted at Jul 16 2010 04:20 PM | Updated as of Jul 17 2010 12:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Aquino administration is reviewing how it plans to negotiate an end to two long-running insurgencies, including the role of foreigners, and expects to hold informal talks with Muslim separatists by end-September.

Since 2001, Malaysia has been hosting talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim rebel group, and has led an international monitoring team since 2004.

Norway and the European Union have agreed to join the monitoring team on the southern island of Mindanao.

Norway also oversees talks between the government and the Maoist National Democratic Front (NDF) to end an insurgency that began in the late 1960s.

"Definitely, we will begin this year," presidential peace adviser Teresita Quintos Deles told foreign correspondents on Friday when asked about resuming negotiations with the MILF to end 40 years of conflict.

"It's a necessity. This country cannot move along with the conflict with the levels that it had then. This is a national agenda."

More than 160,000 people have died in the two long-running insurgencies, which have also stunted growth and investment in the resource-rich but poor Southeast Asian state.

President Benigno Aquino III has said a secure and sustained peace would help attract foreign investment needed to generate jobs in the country.

Bridge gap

Deles said informal negotiations with the 11,000-member MILF could reopen before the end of September after a review of the specific roles of more than a dozen foreign governments and foreign-based nongovernment organisations (NGOs).

"Our review is not yet finished," she said, adding the government wanted clarity on the specific roles and contributions of the foreign states and groups in the peace process.

Aquino has named a law professor as his chief negotiator with the MILF, hoping to tap his expertise on indigenous people's rights, environment and ancestral homeland issues to give the talks new momentum.

The peace talks with both the MILF and NDF have been stop-start and acceptable deals remain elusive, although Deles said the talks with the MILF were more advanced.

Within Aquino's first 100 days in office, Deles said the goal was to bring back 25,000 displaced people to their communities on Mindanao, rebuild their homes and provide them with food, promising there was political will to resolve the conflicts.

"What we want to do is to bridge the gap between the negotiating table and the lives of our people on the ground," she said

"The trust of people in the peace process is so important."