Gov't, MNLF resume talks

By Perseus Echeminada, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jun 13 2013 08:04 AM | Updated as of Jun 13 2013 04:04 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro National Liberation Front and the government peace panel will hold preliminary talks next week for the final implementation of the 1996 peace agreement under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a top MNLF official said yesterday.

Lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, MNLF spokesman, told The STAR that Malacañang set the meeting on June 17 to 19 in preparation for formal talks in Saudi Arabia sometime in August.

“We are happy that the government has finally agreed to resume the peace talks,” he said.

He said MNLF chairman Nur Misuari would lead the four-man panel while Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles will head the government panel.

He said the issues to be discussed include the coverage of territory and sharing of resources.

Fontanilla said the peace talks would resume after the OIC issued a resolution that called on the government to synchronize the framework agreement forged by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the accord with the MNLF.

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He said Indonesia is brokering the final implementation of the peace accord with the MNLF while Malaysia is mediating on behalf of the MILF.

“The MNLF sees no conflict with the framework agreement (with the MILF) because it aims to address the Bangsamoro problem in Mindanao,” he said.

However, Fontanilla clarified that if the last two items in the peace accord will not be resolved, they would seek the endorsement of the OIC to bring the issue before the United Nations.

He said the MNLF would exhaust all peaceful and diplomatic means to attain the political objective of self-rule.

“The MNLF has already renounced violence to attain its objective, we will not fight except in self defense,” he said.

Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, the government’s negotiator with the MILF, said the rebels should give up some of their demands to achieve a final peace agreement under the proposed Bangsamoro government.

Ferrer said that there are provisions of the MILF that the government cannot devolve to the Bangsamoro.

Ferrer said the MILF proposed that the budget of the Bangsamoro government would be automatically appropriated separate from the annual general appropriations act (GAA).

She said the other contentious issues that hampered the early signing of the peace agreement are the provisions of power sharing where the government maintained that it cannot delegate to the Bangsamoro the handling of national defense, foreign relations, customs and tariff, and immigration.

“These are issues when, if you will not bend, surely we will not be able to arrive into an agreement. So, these are the challenges,” Ferrer said. “So we really have to see that in the process of our aspiration we cannot have all of this.”

The MILF leadership earlier warned that any delay in the signing of the peace accord would have an adverse effect on the ground.

She said the government and MILF ad hoc joint action group (AHJAG), which is responsible for implementation of the ceasefire, is also helping in the arrest of criminal elements. MILF protests arrests

The MILF yesterday protested the arrests of four guerrillas, warning it could aff ect talks aimed at ending the decadeslong insurgency.

The arrests come amid diminishing confidence within the MILF over the government’s sincerity in trying quickly to seal a deal to end the rebellion which has left an estimated 150,000 people dead since the 1970s. MILF vice-chairman for political aff airs, Ghadzali Jaafar, said some rebel leaders believed the arrests were a deliberate attempt to target the group despite a ceasefi re. “We fi led this protest to send a message to the government that we are not happy with what is going on and we are very much concerned about the situation,” he said.

He said four MILF fi ghters were arrested recently for alleged illegal possession of ammunition in separate incidents in the southern island of Mindanao home of the country’s

Muslim minority.Jaafar told AFP that under the ceasefi re, MILF fi ghters are allowed to keep their fi rearms and ammunition. He also complained that the resumption of fomal talks had been put off for too long, adding that the government might be deliberately delaying the negotiations. The head of the government peace panel, Miriam Coronel, said in a statement she had asked the police to issue a complete report on the cases. The peace talks are aimed at creating an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million. However the group, which has about 12,000 armed followers, has recently complained about the slow progress of the talks which have fallen behind schedule. – Roel Pareño