05/17/2010, 00.00
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Islamic rebels ready for dialogue with Aquino

Moro Islamic Liberation Front negotiator Mohagher Iqbal praises new president for his victory, says he is hopeful that the peace process can lead to peace in Mindanao, after 40 years of war. For PIME’s Fr Giulio Mariani Pime, “MILF-government talks will depend on President Aquino’s future political alliances.”

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – As the country waits for official results of last week’s presidential elections, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said it was ready to enter into peace talks with President-elect Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, hoping that his strong win would lead to peace.

Unlike outgoing President Gloria Arroyo, “Aquino's victory was untainted by allegations of vote-rigging,” MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said. “He has more moral authority as a president and that will add to his clout”.

However, the MILF leader warned that Aquino would have to face strong pressures from economic interests before he can reach a deal that would bring peace to the region where the Philippines’ Muslim minority wants to exercise its autonomy.

Predominantly Muslim Mindanao has been torn by 40 years of war between the Filipino military and extremist Muslim groups.

The MILF wants to set up an Islamic state in the island. After a ten-year truce, hostilities flared up again in 2008 following the collapse of talks with the Arroyo government.

As a result of the latest wave of violence, more than 750,000 people have been displaced, both Christians and Muslims. Hundreds of people have been killed.

In September 2009, the MILF and Filipino authorities began talking against to find ways to end the conflict, but so far, no solution has been worked out.

Fr Giulio Mariani, a PIME missionary in Zamboanga (Mindanao), said, “Iqbal’s words are a sign of good will towards the new president who has broad support. In the past few years, Arroyo tried by various means to reach an agreement with the rebels to improve her image tainted by charges of corruption. However, neither rebels nor other political leaders gave her that privilege.”

For the missionary, Aquino’s success will depend on his ability to build political alliances. “Mindanao has always been an albatross around the neck of successive governments. The region is seen as a promise land, rich in minerals and farmland, but no one invests there because of poor security and the threat of violence.”

Years of anarchy fuelled by civil war gave rise to family-based clans who control the region through private militias and vote buying. For Fr Mariani, the case of Andal Ampatuan sr is a case in point.

At present, he is in jail awaiting trial for instigating the murder of 57 supporters of Ismael Toto Mangudadatu, his rival for control of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.  

Despite his incarceration and the loss of weapons and wealth seized by the authorities, he was still able to run his candidate, In the end though, that was not good enough because Mangudadatu won, albeit by only 12,000 voters.

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See also
Thousands of troops to supervise elections in Mindanao
Jailed Jolo Muslim rebel leader to be set free
Radio talk-show to foster inter-faith dialogue in Mindanao
Peace between Moro rebels and government near
More education for the young and less politicking are the path to peace in Mindanao


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