Sunday, February 26, 2006

MILF Unfaze By Political Trouble In Manila, Pursues Peace Talks

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 26 Feb) The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), negotiating peace with Manila, said Sunday it will continue to pursue peace talks with the Arroyo government, despite the current political situation in the Philippines and fears that it could affect the peace process.

"The atmosphere right now is not very conducive to the conduct of the talks and we expect a last minute cancellation of March schedule," Jun Mantawail, head of the MILF peace panel secretariat, said.

Mantawil said both MILF and government peace panels are scheduled to resume formal peace talks next month. "We are ready anytime," he said.

He said the MILF is busy finalizing draft for the implementing guidelines of the Muslim ancestral domain under the 2001 Tripoli Agreement.

Peace negotiators reached an agreement this month on the ancestral domain and the rebel group said it is near in signing a deal that will finally put an end to the more than three decades of bloody fighting in Mindanao.

Muslims in the southern Philippines hailed the government peace talks with the separatist rebels and hailed the latest agreement reached by both sides.

"It is a big breakthrough, the issues on the ancestral domain have long been the root of the Muslim insurgency problems in Mindanao, and now government and rebel peace negotiators have finally resolved this," a respected Muslim leader Ustadz Shariff Julabbi said.
He said the agreement on the ancestral domain reached by the government and rebel negotiators last week is one step closer to sealing a peace deal that would bring stability in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region.
Ancestral domain refers to the MILF demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.
Eid Kabalu, the MILF spokesman, said government and rebel peace negotiators have agreed on several crucial issues, including the coverage of the ancestral domain in the five Muslim autonomous provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.
And other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes.
"We are almost there, peace is just around the corner and it is only a matter of time before a peace agreement is signed by both the peace panels. We have fulfilled the peace process," Kabalu said.
Manila said it expects to sign a peace accord with the MILF before the year ends.

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