03/06/2010, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao: MILF drops demand for independence, opens door to peace

by Santosh Digal
A meeting between representatives of the Filipino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front ends on Thursday in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Next round of talks is set for after upcoming elections in May. Presidential peace advisor Annabelle T. Abaya says the respect MILF is showing for the peace process and the government’s proposal will move talks towards a long-term solution for the Mindanao problem.
Manila (AsiaNews) – After 40 years of war, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has dropped its long-standing bid for independence and a separate Islamic state in predominantly Muslim Mindanao. News of the shift follows a meeting on Thursday between MILF officials and government negotiators in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It comes weeks after the rebel group rejected a draft proposal for enhanced autonomy presented in the Malaysian capital by the Filipino government on 28 January, which according to the MILF contained changes not addressed in previous meetings.

MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, said, “Up to now, the MILF has not breached this commitment, and we have declared time and again that the MILF will no longer pursue independence as solution to the Bangsamoro problem”. Instead, it is “in favour of an asymmetrical arrangement [. . .], a 'state-and-substate’ arrangement.” Now, any further talks will have to wait until after the 10 May elections, he said.

For chief government negotiator Rafael Seguis, the latest move by the insurgents was certainly “a welcome development” towards peace.

Likewise, Filipino Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Secretary Annabelle T. Abaya, said she was reassured to hear that the MILF “respects the processes and steps” undertaken by the Filipino government towards a long-term solution to the Mindanao problem.

The MILF’s decision to drop the demand for a separate Islamic state is positive step for both parties, said Pablito Baybado, a Catholic lay theology professor at Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas in Manila. This way, peace talks can go ahead, he told AsiaNews.

For the past 40 years, the predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao has been the scene of fighting between the Filipino army and rebel Muslim groups.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has fought for an independent Islamic state. After ten years of truce, fighting flared up again in August 2008, causing the displacement of 750,000, both Christians and Muslims. At present, about 100,000 people are still displaced, according to estimates by international groups.

The Catholic Church and Muslim organisations, in groups like the Bishop Ulama Forum, have been engaged in a dialogue.

In September 2009, the Filipino government and MILF returned to the negotiating table in Kuala Lumpur to find ways to settle the conflict. Representatives of the United Nations and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference are also represented.

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