Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Philippines, MILF rebels resume peace talks next week

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / December 2, 2009) - The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group said it would resume peace talks next week in an effort to end decades of bloody fighting in the restive southern region of Mindanao.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said the talks would resume on December 8 in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia which is facilitating the peace negotiations.

“We are happy and optimistic about the resumption of the peace talks. We are looking forward to resuming the negotiations with the Philippine government,” he told the independent newspaper the Mindanao Examiner.

Iqbal said both the MILF and the government peace panels also approved the establishment of the International Contact Group composed of the United Kingdom, Japan, and Turkey and The Asia Foundation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Conciliation Resources and the Indonesian group Muhammadiyah as international nongovernmental organization members.

He said the ICG will meet in Manila on Friday to discuss the upcoming peace talks.

“The formation of the ICG finally clears the way for the formal resumption of the peace talks, and the panels agreed to resume the conduct of the peace negotiations on December 8 and 9 in Kuala Lumpur,” Iqbal said.

He said the ICG serves as guarantee that both the government and MILF comply with all signed agreements. Iqbal was referring to the Muslim homeland deal initially signed by peace negotiators, but declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The failed signing of the homeland deal sparked a series of rebel attacks that killed and wounded dozens of civilians in Mindanao.

In October, the MILF and government peace panels also signed an accord ensuring the protection of civilians in areas in Mindanao where there are fighting.

“The Framework Agreement on the formation of the International Contact Group and the Agreement on the Protection of Civilians are essential mechanisms to prevent the repeat of the debacle in Kuala Lumpur on August 5, 2008 when the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain was not signed by the government, as well resulting displacement of more than 600,000 people in Mindanao,” Iqbal said.

The agreement on civilian protection reaffirmed the commitment of the MILF and the Philippine government for the observance of the international humanitarian law and respect for the internationally recognized human rights instruments and the protection of the internally displaced persons.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 in an effort to end decades of bloody Muslim secessionist war in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao, south of the Philippines, where rebels are fighting for self-determination.

The two groups have designated humanitarian and nongovernmental organizations, both international and national, with proven track record for impartiality, neutrality and independence, to carry out the civilian protection functions.

The agreement on civilian protection component will be incorporated into the Terms of Reference of the International Monitoring Team which would be discussed when the formal peace talks. The international cease-fire monitoring team was previously composed of Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Libya and Japan.

Under the civilian protection deal, the MILF and the Philippine government agreed to refrain from intentionally targeting or attacking non-combatants, prevent suffering of the civilian population and avoid acts that would cause collateral damage to civilians.

And to refrain from targeting or intentionally attacking civilian properties or facilities such as schools, hospitals, religious premises, health and food distribution centers, or relief operations, or objects or facilities indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and of a civilian nature and take all necessary actions to facilitate the provision of relief supplies to affected communities.

The two sides also agreed to take all precautions feasible to avoid incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and danger to civilian objects and to ensure that all protective and relief actions shall be undertaken in a purely nondiscriminatory basis covering all affected communities.

They would also issue orders to their respective military units or security forces, including paramilitaries, associated militias, and police units to conduct their operations consistent with their obligations and commitments described in the accord. (Mindanao Examiner)

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