RP-MILF peace team expands coverage

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The mandate of the International Monitoring Team has been extended for one more year, with its coverage expanded to include the war-torn areas of Basilan and Sulu as well as Tawi-Tawi and Palawan where violations of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front can occur.

Malacañang released yesterday a joint statement signed by government chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia and his MILF counterpart Mohagher Iqbal. They signed the document in Cyberjaya, Malaysia, the other day.

The statement also said that both sides have “resolved to move forward” in reviving the peace talks which bogged down in September last year over the issue of ancestral domain.

“Both sides affirm the substantial contribution of the IMT for almost three years in helping stabilize the ground environment in Mindanao and in boosting international confidence to the peace process,” the statement said.

According to deputy presidential adviser on the peace process Nabil Tan, Basilan and Sulu were included in the expanded terms of reference following the recent tension there where MILF rebels clashed with government troops.

“The government and the MILF saw the need to include these areas to give the IMT more powers to investigate possible violations of the three-year-old ceasefire agreement,” Nabil said in a separate interview at the Palace.

Tan said the monitoring team will also include humanitarian, rehabilitation and socioeconomic assistance on top of their mandate to monitor the ceasefire accord.

Earlier, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she will discuss the stalled peace talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in a bid to revive the negotiations during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation in Australia next week.

Mrs. Arroyo said she will not have time to talk to Badawi during her visit to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday for Malaysia’s founding anniversary but the two leaders will have a pull-aside meeting in Sydney. “Maybe not when I go for Malaysia’s foundation day but definitely during Apec we will have an opportunity to discuss the peace talks. But the details will be left for our presidential adviser on the peace process to hammer out,” the President said.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, for his part, has called for the swift resumption of the talks, originally slated for Aug. 22.

“It requires faith on the part of the parties involved. I think whatever caused the failure of these talks should be identified quickly so that resumption of the negotiations can begin,” Albar told the state-run Bernama news agency.

Negotiations have been postponed twice this year with the government panel unilaterally seeking the deferment. The talks collapsed in September last year because of the issue of ancestral domain.

According to Garcia, the number of villages that will be offered for inclusion in the proposed Bangsamoro Judicial Territory has been reduced to about 300 to 400, a far cry from the MILF’s demand of 1,200 contiguous areas.