12/02/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Philippines, foreign affairs undersecretary appointed to dialogue with MILF

by Santosh Digal
Rafael Seguis, with a long diplomatic career behind him, will be in charge of resuming peace negotiations with the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Relations were broken off last September 3, following the failure to sign the Memorandum of Agreement. During the week for peace in Mindanao, Christian and Muslim leaders are visiting churches and mosques.

Manila (AsiaNews) - The Filipino government has appointed a new representative for peace discussions with the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Filling this delicate role will be the current foreign affairs undersecretary for special concerns, Rafael Seguis, personally selected by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The committee charged with resuming peace talks with the Islamic militants is made up of the newly appointed representative and four other members, whose names have not yet been made public. It is the first time that a diplomat still in service will fulfill this kind of delicate role, but the situation of tension and the sudden interruption of peace negotiations has prompted the government to select a figure of unquestioned competence.

Rafael Seguis (in the photo, on the right) has a long career behind him: he was the Filipino ambassador to Indonesia, East Timor, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, and Jordan. He has participated in various conferences organized by Islamic movements, and is seen as "highly qualified." The appointment of the other four members of the committee should be announced - according to government sources - within two weeks.

The Filipino government says that the leaders of the MILF appreciate the appointment of Rafael Seguis as head of the negotiations. "We are happy to learn," says Eduardo Ermita, executive secretary of the government, "that the MILF appreciates the appointment of Seguis to head the peace committee." It is a sign of hope in the peace talks, suddenly cut off last September 3 after the controversy following the failure to sign the Memorandum of Agreement that would have led to the creation of an autonomous Muslim majority region in Mindanao.

In the meantime, events continue for the week for peace in Mindanao, which ends tomorrow, December 3. In recent days, religious and secular leaders and the faithful have promoted a gesture full of significance in order to foster interreligious dialogue: the Christians, priests and laity, have visited the local mosque, while the Muslims have reciprocated by visiting the Christian church. In an open letter, the Muslim leaders have also emphasized that "if Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace."

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