IslamOnline.net & News Agencies
“We appreciate this development, we feel it is an advancement in the search for peace in Mindanao,” Murad said. (Reuters)
CAMP DARAPANAN, PHILIPPINES — The leader of the Philippines’ largest Islamic group said Saturday, March 10, the government has offered Muslims in the southern provinces a self-determination in a move expected to push forward the stalled peace talks to end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.
“It can be a breakthrough,” Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Leader Al Haj Murad told reporters in his camp in the jungles of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, Reuters reported Saturday, March 10.
“We appreciate this development, we feel it is an advancement in the search for peace in Mindanao,” he said.
The self-determination offer is unprecedented during more than three decades of conflict and intermittent negotiations.
Last week, Manila’s Chief Peace Negotiator Silvestre Afable said that the government hoped to resume formal peace talks with the MILF before national elections on May 14.
“There’s already an informal understanding on the political aspect of the negotiations but the issue on territory remained unresolved,” Afable said.
The talks, brokered by Malaysia since 2001, had stalled over the size and wealth of a proposed Muslim ancestral homeland.
Afable, however, declined to elaborate on the consensus points agreed by the two sides, but was confident that formal talks would soon resume as all parties, including Malaysia, had agreed on a schedule.
At least 125,000 have been killed in the conflict between Muslim separatists and Manila in Mindanao where most of the Roman Catholic country’s roughly 5 million Muslims live. The Philippine population is 87 million.
Last Wednesday, March 7, Philippines government ordered its troops to withdraw from two mainly Muslim villages in southern Mindanao island to prevent further bloodshed as two days of heavy fighting between the military and MILF fighters left 17 dead of both sides, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
MILF said the most recent clashes erupted when the military advanced on two MILF-controlled villages in Midsayap town.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been struggling for an independent Mindanao since 1978. It agreed to a ceasefire with Manila in 2003, paving the way for peace talks.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the country’s oldest Muslim group, would meet in the Saudi city of Jeddah in July to try to salvage their key peace deal, Reuters reported.
Sayyed Kassem El-Masry, a senior official of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which brokered a 1996 peace agreement between Manila and MNLF and will take part in the July 10-15 meeting, said he expected detained MNLF leader Nur Misuari to attend.
Misuari has been detained since 2002 in Laguna province by Philippine troops.
Hailed as the solution to decades of bitter fighting between MORO and Manila, the 1996 agreement floundered due to a lack of funds, poor implementation and opposition from hardliners on both sides.
Manila would like to salvage the pact before any deal with MILF, and end a conflict that, along with the bloodshed, has stunted development in a resource-rich region of Mindanao.
MNLF fought for an independent Islamic state in the south from the late 1960s until the OIC, through Libya, intervened and convinced them in December 1976 to accept autonomy for 13 Muslim provinces, including the western island of Palawan.
In 2005, the Philippine government and the OIC Committee of the Eight (C8) members agreed to send a mission to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to check the implementation of the 1996 peace accord.
The OIC-brokered agreement was inked to end the armed conflict that gripped Mindanao, Islam’s birthplace in this Southeast Asian state.
The accord stipulated the establishment of ARMM, the integration of MNLF combatants into the military and the police, and the rehabilitation by the government of war-torn areas in Mindanao, among others.