MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – Filipino and Muslim rebels negotiating peace have agreed to extend the stay of international truce observers in the strife-torn Mindanao island in southern Philippines, a rebel spokesman said on Tuesday.
Eid Kabalu, of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said peace negotiators have held urgent talks Monday in Kuala Lumpur to discuss important issues that included the stay of the International Monitoring Team.
"MILF and Philippine government negotiators have agreed to extend the stay of the IMT for another year," Kabalu told the Mindanao Examiner.
The IMT is composed of 41 officers from the Malaysian Defense Forces, the Royal Malaysia Police, and the Prime Minister's Department and is also supported by 10 military officers from Brunei Darussalam and 5 from Libya. Japan also has a member in the IMT.
But despite the peace talks and a fragile truce signed six years ago, sporadic clashes between soldiers and rebels still continue in Mindanao. However, the presence of the IMT prevented the clashes from further spreading.
"The presence of the IMT is very important to the peace process and stability of Mindanao and the southern Philippines in whole. The IMT is like a magnet that holds us together and the presence of international truce observers gives the peace negotiators confidence in achieving peace in Mindanao," Kabalu said.
Manila earlier postponed the peace talks in Malaysia. The talks on Monday, however, failed to reach any new agreement on the Muslim's ancestral domain in Mindanao.
Malaysia is brokering peace talks between the Filipino government and the MILF, but negotiations ended in September in Kuala Lumpur with both sides failing to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue -- ancestral domain – which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.
It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.
President Gloria opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, which is fighting for independence in Mindanao island, whose 16 million populations includes about 4 million Filipino Muslims.
Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said Manila previously offered his group the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989. The MILF flatly rejected the offer and insisted on self-determination.
The ancestral domain, on the other hand, covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)