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Gov’t-MILF peace talks on again

By Christine Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:22:00 07/28/2008

Filed Under: Mindanao peace process

MANILA, Philippines?The peace talks between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front are back on track after the two panels signed in Malaysia Sunday night a joint communiqué on the contentious issue of ancestral domain.

?This will lead to the signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain on Aug. 5, said Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Ermita said the two panels had initialed the final draft of the MOA.

?So the talks are on again,? he said, adding that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been informed of the latest development.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza quoted Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Hermogenes Esperon Jr., who is in Kuala Lumpur, as saying a ?breakthrough? was achieved when the communiqué was signed at 8:15 Sunday night by government chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia and his MILF counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal.

Earlier, President Arroyo sent National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Esperon to Malaysia to try and save the negotiations that collapsed on Friday.

Esperon said Ms Arroyo gave them guidelines, but declined to elaborate. ?Her marching orders were to go forward, to put it simply.?

Palace officials said the President was not giving up on the peace negotiations, with both Ermita and Dureza saying efforts were continuing to resolve the ?differences? between the two sides that they stressed were ?surmountable.?

Ermita said the talks had not broken down and that what happened was ?part of the dynamics of negotiations.?

Dureza said he remained confident the government and the MILF could still move forward.

The heads of the two peace panels were supposed to have ?initialed? on July 24 in Malaysia a draft agreement on the proposed ancestral domain of the Bangsamoro people that included expanding the areas already covered by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by around 700 more barangays.

The military, according to Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Alexander Yano, will not send additional troops to central Mindanao, where most of the skirmishes initiated by MILF commanders growing impatient over the stalled peace talks have taken place.

On its website, the MILF said its negotiators walked out when their counterparts in the government attempted to reopen at least two settled issues in the draft agreement on ancestral domain.

According to Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, the proposed memorandum of agreement was to affirm all interim agreements previously signed by both panels and would seal a pact on ancestral domain which had slowed the talks on issues concerning territory, a subtopic under ancestral domain. With Nikko Dizon in Manila; Nash B. Maulana and Julie S. Alipala in Mindanao; Reuters



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