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Government, MILF nearing peace pact

/ 02:30 AM October 03, 2012

Government officials and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels began a fresh round of talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Tuesday, aiming to seal a peace agreement to end the decades-old Muslim insurgency in Mindanao.

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The two sides are closing in on a framework agreement outlining the steps, or roadmap, to finalize a peace pact.

The deal could be signed as early as this week if the four-day talks in Malaysia are successful.

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“We are on the brink of layering the written predicates that can frame the process of building trust,” said Marvic Leonen, chairman of the government negotiating panel.

He said government officials are “looking at this framework agreement as the overarching architecture of the peace process.”

Mohagher Iqbal, the rebels’ chief negotiator, said the talks were now “on the homestretch.”

“The smell of success is reinforced every day (but) remember that negotiations, contrary to what many believe, is a risky business. If we cannot conclude it soon successfully, we will be in trouble,” Iqbal said.

Teresita Quintos-Deles, chief adviser on the peace process, said the government was hoping for an enduring settlement soon.

“We are always hoping and praying for just and lasting peace. Sooner, rather than later,” she told AFP.

A peace deal with the MILF would set up an expanded autonomous area for Muslims on Mindanao before the end of President Benigno Aquino’s term in 2016, giving them more political and economic powers, including a bigger share in revenues from natural resources and a more active role in internal security.

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The agreement would set up a 15-member transition commission which has until 2015 to draft a law creating the new entity to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) that has been in place since 1989 and which is widely seen as a failure.

Iqbal said there are still some issues to be resolved in the latest talks, particularly on the shape and size of the new political entity, internal security and wealth-sharing arrangement.

He was also concerned that the peace talks could be further complicated by next May’s midterm elections.

“For all we know, the greatest source of risk comes from spoilers, leaders and parties who believe that these emerging from negotiations threaten their power and interests, and use violence to undermine attempts to achieve it,” he said.

Mindanao is home to vast untapped reserves of gold, copper and other minerals, as well as being one of the country’s most important farming regions.

There are roughly four million Muslims in Mindanao, which they see as their ancestral homeland dating back to Islamic sultanates established before Spanish Christians arrived in the 1500s.

The MILF and other Muslim rebel groups have been fighting for independence or autonomy in Mindanao since the early 1970s.

The rebellion has claimed more than 150,000 lives, most in the 1970s when all-out war raged, and left large parts of mineral-rich Mindanao in deep poverty.

The MILF is the biggest and most important rebel group left, after the Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace pact with the government in 1996.

Since opening peace talks with the government in 2003, the MILF has said it is willing to accept autonomy rather than independence.

The group came close to a peace deal with the government in 2008, under the previous administration led by then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, that would have given them control over 700 townships and villages.

But amid furious protests from leading Christian politicians in the south, as well as the influential Catholic Church, the Supreme Court ruled that the deal was unconstitutional.

Two MILF commanders reacted to the court order by leading attacks on mainly Christian villages in Mindanao, with the unrest killing 400 people and displacing about 750,000 others.

Leonen told reporters in Manila this month the government had been consulting with officials in the south as well as leading national politicians to ensure their support for the planned new deal and avoid a repeat of 2008. With a report from AFP

Originally posted: 6:32 pm | Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

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TAGS: ARMM, Government, Insurgency, Malaysia, MILF, Mindanao, Muslim, peace process, Philippines, talks, Unrest
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