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MILF on peace: ‘We’re almost there’

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12:04 AM September 5th, 2012

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September 5th, 2012 12:04 AM

COTABATO CITY—“We’re almost there.”

This was how optimistic a top official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front sounded over the progress of peace talks between MILF and government.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF political affairs chief, buttressed reports quoting government negotiators as saying an agreement between MILF and government is taking shape, would be finalized this year and implemented before President Aquino’s term ends in 2016.

Jaafar, in an interview by a radio station here, said while there is no agreement yet on a number of key issues, MILF leaders are confident that an agreement would fall into place in future meetings between the guerrillas’ peace panel and that of government.

“We feel that the Aquino administration’s peace panel is agreeable to have (the unresolved issues) tackled with an open mind,” Jaafar said.

 

Parliamentary gov’t

Among the unresolved issues, according to Jaafar, is whether or not the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), a new governing body that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), would be parliamentary in form.

MILF and government negotiators have agreed in principle to adopt BJE as a replacement for ARMM, which Mr. Aquino once described as a failed experiment in autonomy that has been bleeding billions of pesos of government funds due to massive corruption.

Among BJE’s features is an expanded territory for Moro autonomy, a concept which opponents of a previous attempt to expand autonomous rule for Moros continue to campaign against.

Asked to cite a timetable for the signing of the peace agreement, Jaafar said: “Within this year we pray and hope to sign this peace accord with our counterparts.”

‘Major breakthroughs’

Teresita Deles, presidential adviser on the peace process, said in a statement that the government expects “major breakthroughs” in the talks this year.

“The government hopes to be able to sign a series of agreements within the year and complete their implementation during the Aquino administration,” her statement said.

Deles said a plebiscite would be held to complete the process of replacing ARMM with BJE. A rejection by the people of the BJE in a plebiscite, however, would send the talks back to square one.

“We would achieve more milestones if more Filipinos will support it (BJE),” Deles said.

Kato’s shadow

The emergence of a new Moro guerrilla group led by disgruntled leader Ameril Umra Kato, however, is casting a shadow on the ongoing talks.

Kato’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a new guerrilla army formed after Kato broke off from MILF, has been blamed for a series of attacks on civilian communities. Charlie Señase and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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