Manila - Preliminary peace talks that began on a guardedly optimistic note ended on April 20 with a “breakthrough”. The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said they had reached an agreement on several issues, such as ancestral land, which had been a major stumbling block in the negotiations.
A joint statement at the end of a three-day meeting in Port Dickson, Malaysia, said formal peace negotiations were expected to begin in the next few months. Both sides “hailed the outcome of the meeting as a breakthrough towards a just and durable solution to the Mindanao conflict”, the statement added.
The chairman of the peace negotiation panel representing Manila, Mr Silvestre C Afable Jr, told reporters that both sides saw a breakthrough in 60 to 70 per cent of the issues.
“I cannot go into much detail but we have three strands, that is, concept, territory and resources. We have some details on consensus points," he said.
Mr Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF panel, said it was a very fruitful meeting. “I suppose if we can fully harness this issue, then we will be able to find a negotiated political settlement in Mindanao.” He was referring to the “ancestral domain” issue, which had been a major stumbling block in the talks.
The MILF had demanded that it be granted rights over its “ancestral domain” or homeland. This traditionally means the entire southern island of Mindanao, where the 12,000-strong MILF has been waging a separatist rebellion since 1978. But MILF officials have now said that they are willing to compromise on the demand, without saying what they are prepared to accept.
Mr Afable credited his Malaysian host for making the talks possible. “This thing could not have happened if not for the help of the Malaysian government, not only in facilitating the talks, but also through the presence of an international monitoring team led by Malaysiain Mindanao,” he added.
* Breakthrough seen in talks over Mindanao peace (Bernama, April 20)
* Govt, MILF hail ‘breakthrough’ in peace talks (Inquirer News Service, April 21)