Hopes for Manila, MILF peace deal

THE resumption of talks between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will bring a sigh of relief to the people of conflict-hit southern Philippines as the prospects for peace and progress in the area are now getting brighter.
The officials from the Philippine government yesterday held talks with the MILF representatives in Kuala Lumpur to discuss proposed drafts on a political settlement to the conflict. During the talks, MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal presented proposals to the Philippine delegation headed by the Chairman of the Philippine government’s peace negotiating panel, Rafael Seguis.
Although a peace deal between the two parties is highly unlikely during the tenure of current Philippine President Gloria Arroyo that ends in June this year, the talks will definitely accelerate the momentum of peace efforts and it would be easier for the next President to reach an agreement. If the talks brokered by Malaysia are successful, a peace pact would be signed between the two parties to end a four-decade-old conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people.
In another development this week, peacekeepers from three Muslim countries _ Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Libya _ started their mission to oversee a ceasefire agreement in the southern Philippines. Under the new agreement signed last October between Manila and the MILF, the mandate of the international monitoring team has been expanded to include protection of lives and properties of civilians in the area.
The deployment of the monitoring team has been hailed by both the Philippine government and the MILF as a positive step towards a sustainable peace in the area. “With the deployment of the International Monitoring Team, peace talks are back on track,” Rafael Seguis, head of the Philippine government’s peace panel, said after the arrival of Malaysian troops in Mindanao.
The move came 17 months after Philippine government suspended talks with MILF as the Supreme Court blocked ratification of a deal signed by Manila and MILF. Under the deal, Muslims were promised greater autonomy in a large area in southern Philippines. After the suspension of the peace process, more than 1,000 people were killed and nearly 750,000 displaced in fighting between security forces and rebels from August 2008 until July 2009.
Now it is heartening to note that both the Philippine government and the MILF have realised the importance of purposeful negotiations to resolve this lingering conflict. The role of Brunei, Malaysia and Libya is also commendable as these Muslim states are using their influence for a peaceful resolution of the issue. These efforts are in the best interest of both the Philippine government and over 5 million Muslims of Mindanao.

The statements from both sides are positive and optimistic. Prior to the talks, the MILF chief negotiator had said his group was not seeking separation. “We’re not seeking to separate and create a new state,” he told reporters. “We’re only asking the government to recognise our right for self-determination and we are not even trying to reclaim areas where Muslims have become a minority.”
One can hope that both parties will reach an agreement through this peace process and the people of resource- rich southern Philippines will get their due share of peace, development and prosperity in near future.

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