Friday, March 12, 2010

Peace deal unlikely under President Arroyo, says MILF

A Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighter peeks through the sight of a .50-caliber machine gun Friday, March 12, 2010 at a rebel outpost in the southern Philippines. The MILF, which is negotiating peace with Manila, says it is unlikely to sign a peace deal with President Gloria Arroyo who is stepping down in May this year. Arroyo opened up peace talks with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group in 2001 in an effort to end decades of bloody fighting in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. Below, MILF deputy chieftain Ghazali Jaafar. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 12, 2010) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front said Friday it is likely to sign a peace deal with President Gloria Arroyo, who is to step down in May when her term ends.

Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed several agreements in the past; including a cease-fire accord that prevented major clashes in the restive, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao, home to more than 4 million Muslims.

Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s deputy chieftain, said there is not enough time to continue the talks, but he expressed optimism the next president will honor all agreement signed under Arroyo’s rule.

“We have no more time to continue the peace talks and the peace negotiators are trying to reach an interim agreement so we may preserve the gains of the talks. We just hope the next president will continue the peace process. We are for peace,” Jaafar said from his base in Mindanao.

The MILF, he said, is fighting for self-determination in Mindanao, which was formerly ruled by the sultans until the Spaniards came and colonized the Philippines in 1521. The rule lasted more than 300 years.

“But I tell you, even if the Spaniards came, we were never colonized. The Bangsamoro people were never conquered,” Jaafar said, referring to the Muslims and the valiant fighting spirit that they are known for.

Jaafar is one the most senior leader of the MILF, which is now headed by the secluded Murad Ebrahim, who previously was the group’s military chieftain.

Many of the MILF fighters said they are supporting the peace process and also hope that the next administration would honor all agreements signed since 2001 by the two sides.

The MILF peace panel is headed by Mohagher Iqbal and his government counterpart Rafael Seguis.

“Yes, I am for peace. I am supporting the peace talks. There is no reason to fight because we are also for peace,” said MILF rebel Anwar as he held on to his rocket-propelled grenade launcher near his detachment in Mindanao.

Like Anwar, the others in his unit also are supporting the peace process. “We don’t want fighting anymore. It only brings misery and destruction, hunger and pain. We want peace also,” said another MILF fighter, Musa, who fought government soldiers half of his life in Mindanao defending their ancestral lands and rights as a proud Muslim.

“Time will come that instead of this automatic rifle, I will probably be carrying my son and live a peaceful and quiet life – all for the sake of peace and the future of our children and the next generation, Inshaallah! In God’s will,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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