No reason to replace Malaysian facilitator - MILF

by Lerio Bompat, ABS-CBN News Central Mindanao

Posted at Nov 20 2010 12:24 AM | Updated as of Nov 20 2010 08:24 AM

COTABATO, Philippines - The central committee of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is opposed to the purported demand of the Philippine government to replace Othman Razak as the facilitator of the GRP-MILF peace talks, according to a top official of the group.

Mohaqher Iqbal, MILF peace panel chairman, said that the MILF central committee has already made an official resolution requesting the Malaysian government to retain Razak as the facilitator of the talks.

The Philippine government reportedly does not consider Razak as a neutral player.

But Iqbal said that if the Philippine government sees the Malaysian to be biased, officials should cite specific examples or instances to prove Razak's alleged bias.

"It’s sweeping statement, general statement and that's unfair to him. The choice of the facilitator is the call of the Malaysian government, and that the 2 parties have little say on that matter,” said Iqbal in an interview with ABS-CBN Cotabato.

But although the choice of a facilitator is the call of the Malaysian government, it’s not their absolute discretion because the Philippine government and MILF can raise concerns to the highest Malaysian authority, Iqbal said.

Iqbal said he agrees that the delays could increase tension on the ground. He said “it’s possible [that] if [the] negotiation is moving forward, then violence will go downward, but if the negotiation is moving downwards. then violence will rise, that’s the equation. There's a direct effect on the negotiation across the negotiating table and on the ground situation."

The MILF senior official said the group’s central committee will do everything to inform their political and military leaders that they are in talks with the government. He said both political and military leaders are listening to the higher organs of the MILF.

He said the MILF is not considering another party that would serve as facilitator of the GRP-MILF peace talks.

"I think Malaysia is doing the job, very exceptional, and there's no reason why it should be replaced," Iqbal said.

MILF can't wait forever

Meantime, the MILF panel chief said the group is patiently waiting for talks to resume. He said that it now depends on the other party, the Philippine government.

Iqbal, however, stressed that they can’t wait forever.

"We have been very patient but negotiations is like tango. It takes 2 to tango. Even if 1 party likes to talk and the other party doesn’t want, then no negotiation will take place," he said.

He said the MILF is calling on the Aquino administration to take control of the situation .

MILF sees the situation now as too bureaucratic. He noted there are negotiators in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and in the Office of the President.

"I think President Aquino should take a direct and personal look on the current situation of the delayed peace talks," added Iqbal.

He said the MILF is optimistic that talks will take place soon to end the conflict in Mindanao.