COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 26, 2011) – Some 10,000 people have joined a caravan in a ceremonial send-off to government and rebel peace negotiators who are set to resume talks in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
The caravan consisted of more than 500 vehicles and travelled from here to Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato province in Mindanao in an effort to show support for the peace talks between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-determination.
Many of those who joined the caravan expressed support to an MILF proposal that would create a so-called Bangsamoro sub-state. They also called on peace negotiators to hasten the talks so that both sides can sign a peace accord.
Manila and the MILF have been negotiating the past decade and so far nothing had been achieved that would put an end to senseless fighting in Mindanao.
Those in the caravan carried placards and streamers. One reads: “No to endless negotiations,” referring to the long years since the peace talks began. Villagers have lined up roads where the caravan had passed and many of them also carried placards supporting the resumption of the peace talks.
Bobby Benito, Executive Director of the Bangsamoro Council for Just Peace, said: “This is an indication of the Bangsamoro people’s support to the peace talks and a manifestation of our agreement with the legitimate demands that the MILF has forwarded to the government.”
Benito’s group and the Mindanao Alliance for Peace organized the caravan. Carlo Abdulmalik Cleofe, an advocacy officer of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus, said the people’s support to the talks is important because it showed that they wanted peace in the southern Philippines. “This shows that the Bangsamoro people are really behind the negotiation and the agenda of the MILF,” he said.
In Davao City, peace advocates also put up a 200-meter ‘human chain’ to symbolize their support to the two-day negotiations in Malaysia.
Rexall Kaalim, a senior staff of the MPC, which organized the ‘Human Chain for Peace,’ said: “This action is intended not just to show massive support to the peace talks, but also to demand concrete results from the negotiations.”
Kaalim said civil society organizations have urged the two peace panels to deliver results and sign a negotiated political settlement in the next twelve months. (With a report from Romy Elusfa)