Archive for December, 2007


Last updated 02:37am (Mla time) 12/05/2007


MANILA, Philippines – The government and the country’s largest Moro separatist group are preparing to sign a peace deal after years of tortuous negotiations, but that may be the easy part.

Implementing an agreement to end a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million and stunted growth in resource-rich Mindanao will be much more difficult, both sides say.

After decades of rebellion, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) agreed on a ceasefire in 2003 that has by and large held despite occasional flare-ups of violence.

They have also negotiated on setting up an ancestral homeland for 3 million Muslims that will have a large amount of autonomy but not independence.

Even the rebels say signing the deal is only a step forward.

“The problem is not as easy as some people would like to see it,” Mohaqher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator, told Reuters in a recent interview at a rebel camp in Mindanao.

“There are still a lot of humps and bumps in the road to peace. Granting that the two parties would be able to sign an agreement next year, there’s still a very big problem on how to implement that deal.”

The government has claimed an end to the rebellion on the southern third of the archipelago once—in 1996, when it signed a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the group from which the MILF was born.

A decade later, the head of the MNLF is in jail and the group is bitterly criticizing the government for not keeping to its promises. Many MNLF members have taken up the gun again.

Iqbal criticized MNLF leaders for getting co-opted by the government, saying they weakened the struggle for self-determination by accepting official positions.

“We are not applying for any job in the government,” he said. “We want to be masters of ourselves. We want to swim or drown among ourselves. We want self-governance whether it’s a substate or a state within the Philippines.”

Talks between the MILF and the government were expected to resume middle of this month, according to Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process who carries a Cabinet rank.

Dureza said the postponement of the talks, which was scheduled to start yesterday in Kuala Lumpur, was aimed at giving both sides ample time to prepare.

He denied reports that the cancellation of this week’s meeting in Malaysia was due to the Manila Peninsula caper in Makati City last week.

Dureza said, before the caper, chief government negotiator Rodolfo Garcia, a retired general, and MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal had already discussed and agreed in principle to move the talks middle of this month.

“It is a slow but sure process of attaining peace in Mindanao,” he said. Edwin O. Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao with Reuters

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