10/27/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Bishops and diplomats committed to peace in Mindanao

by Santosh Digal
The Mindanao Peoples Caucus has called on the diplomatic community and religious leaders to help the government and MILF rebels resume stalled talks.

Zamboanga City (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the diplomatic community have committed themselves to call for national consultation among  business leaders, non-government organizations, and religious leaders to find "models" that might possibly help break the impasse in the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The commitment was made in various meetings with the 17-member delegation representing the Mindanao Peoples Caucus (MPC) which is trying to rally more support for the peace process in Mindanao, southern Philippines, and "nationalise" it.

The delegation was first received by representatives of the diplomatic community whose members expressed the desire to do everything possible to help the population of the southern archipelago.

This meeting was then followed by one with the chairman of the CBCP's Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, who said he was "happy that grassroots people are here to talk to us" to find a solution.

For its part, the MPC delegation urgently called on religious leaders to find the moral and spiritual perspectives that might speed up the peace process. It also expressed hope that religious leaders might lead the charge in finding a solution to the Mindanao crisis.

It is the third time that religious leaders express their support for renewed peace talks between the government and the MILF.

On September 30, CBCP leaders and Filipino ulemas asked the government and the rebels to get back to the negotiations table as soon as possible "for the good of the population of Mindanao".

On October 15, Christian and Muslim religious leaders from Mindanao reacted to new acts of violence by appealing for an end to hostilities and a return to dialogue.

For more than 40 years, the MILF has been fighting the government to secure a homeland for the country's Muslim minority which is largely concentrated in the southern Philippines.

In the last two years, armed clashes have considerably lessened after peace talks began with the Manila government in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However, they have been stalled for the several months after the MILF asked the government for the right to manage more than 1,000 hectares. Manila rejected the request calling it "unconstitutional", thus leading to the present impasse and renewed fighting.

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