Friday, March 31, 2006

Foreign Donors Pledge Support To Mindanao Peace Efforts

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 31 Mar) International donor agencies pledged their strong commitment to support Manila's peace and development initiatives in Mindanao in an effort to help rebuild war-torn areas in the southern Philippine region, officials said.

Officials said foreign aid donors cited their continuing focus on strengthening assistance to Mindanao, where Manila is negotiating peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF), the country's largest Muslim separatist rebel group, under Murad Ebrahim.

President Gloria Arroyo has appealed for aid from international donors to help hasten the government peace process in Mindanao.

She said the peace talks are now on its final stage and that negotiators are expected to sign an agreement before the year ends. She said: "I believe that before the year is out, we will be able to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao with your support. Yet the last mile is always the hardest sailing, because that is when the destination is in sight, but the winds of resistance will blow most fiercely."

Arroyo said: "Therefore, to help us through this last mile more smoothly, I’d like to make a personal appeal to all of you, who plan to provide aid to Mindanao as peacekeepers, please consider providing your aid now even as we await the signing of a final peace accord as several nations have already done under the Mindanao trust fund of the World Bank in your phase one.

"A proactive gesture of generosity and confidence will put more air in our sails at a typical moment in our journey as we strive to reach the safe harbor of peace in Mindanao," she said during Thursday's Philippine Development Forum held in Tagaytay City, outside Manila.

Jesus Dureza, Presidential peace adviser, said the continued support of donor partners clearly indicates their sincere commitment to contribute to the attainment of lasting peace and development in Mindanao.

"Knowing that the uncertain peace and order situation is a major impediment in attaining economic growth for the island, we are anticipating that the current peace efforts will strengthen the enabling environment for investment and growth in Mindanao," Dureza said.
Dureza said the sustainable development in Mindanao is a vital key in realizing the final signing of a peace deal between the Arroyo government and the MILF, which is fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in the southern region; and the implementation of the September 1996 peace agreement with the former rebel group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari.
He said the European Union, one of the major donors assisting Mindanao, also expressed its sustained support for Mindanao as it has been encouraged by the progress noted in the ongoing peace talks between government andthe MILF.
"EU has been helping Mindanao in many ways and stands ready to support further the region to ensure the sustainability of the peace agreement," Jan de Kok, European Union Ambassador, said. "EU hopes for a speedy implementation of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF, as well as the resumption of peace dialogues between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front (NDF)."

The NDF is the political wing of the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines, which is also fighting the past decades to topple the government and install a Maoist state.

The Mindanao Economic Development Council (MEDCo) said that a total of 156 official development assistance-funded programs and projects are ongoing in Mindanao's six regions.

The Phase 1 of the Mindanao Trust Fund for Reconstruction and Development, administered by the World Bank, was also launched in Cotabato City in Maguindanao province to promote effective governance process and assist economic and social recovery in conflict-affected areas, Dureza said.

The program is supported by Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Sweden. It aims to provide capacity building for the Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), put up jointly by the MILF and the government in 2002, to oversee the whole implementation of the rehabilitation plan, aside from the humanitarian and development projects in the conflict-affected areas.

The Phase 2 of the program is expected to begin once a peace agreement is signed by the government and the MILF.

Joachim von Amsberg, World Bank's Philippines Director, said Thursday forum, attended by more than 200 participants, clearly signifies a strong commitment of both the Arroyo government and donor partners to effectively work towards strategically achieving full development for the country.
"The challenges ahead to accelerate economic and social progress remain significant and it is vital to discuss on sustaining fiscal reforms," he said.

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