Talks with MILF to continue


President Gloria Arroyo has assured the United Nations that she will resume peace talks with Muslim separatists as recent fresh fighting in southern Philippines left two rebels dead.

Her assurance came a day after the government announced that it was working on adding the names of three rebel commanders to the UN’s list of terrorists.

President Arroyo has suspended peace talks with the rebels and poured more troops into Mindanao to pursue the three Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders and their men blamed for deadly attacks there in August.

But speaking before the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, Mrs. Arroyo said she remained committed to the peace process but stressed the negotiations would only resume when the three rebel commanders are arrested.

Organization of Islamic Confe-rence Secretary General Edmeleddin Ihsanoglu told President Arroyo that it would support efforts for political settlement in Mindanao “only within the context of Philippine sovereign integrity and will not allow crossing that line,” Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said.

MILF leaders Umbra Kato, Abdu-rahman Macapaar or Bravo and Sulayman Panglian last month led attacks on mostly Christian communities in the provinces of Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao, North Cota-bato and Sarangani.

Ensuing clashes between them and government troops caused the death of more than 200 soldiers, rebels and civilians and displaced at least a quarter-million residents.

Foreign aid agencies have reported difficulties in getting access to refugee camps in their efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis.

“Much progress was made until violent elements within the [MILF] decided to take the law into their own hands,” the President said in her speech, which was released on Wednesday in Manila.

She added that the government would resume dialogue with the rebels when the area was secure and the separatist leadership had regained control of their men.

By “area,” the President was apparently referring to the four provinces, although there also had been violence in Sultan Kudarat province.

MILF justifies attacks

The MILF said it launched the attacks in answer to the Supreme Court’s aborting a peace deal that would have given the rebel group control over an expanded Muslim autonomous area, the Bangsamoro Juridical Authority, that would constitute the rebel homeland.

Mrs. Arroyo said any future negotiations would also have to subscribe to the UN principle of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, or DDR, the so-called paradigm shift of her administration in dealing with the nearly four decades of undeclared war in Mindanao.

Some 50 MILF separatists engaged government troops in gun battles across Maguindanao on Tuesday, according to the Philippine Army spokesman, Maj. Armand Rico.

Two rebels were killed and two soldiers wounded in the fighting, Rico said in a statement.

The government’s move to include Kato, Bravo and Panglian in the UN list of terrorists will only worsen the situation in Mindanao, according to officials of the MILF.

Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, said the government should resolve the conflict in the South within the framework of an existing ceasefire agreement between Manila and the rebels.

According to Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief negotiator, the separatist group cannot stop the government from going to the United Nations.

He, however, said that Manila’s move would give the MILF an opportunity to also present its case on alleged atrocities committed by government troops in Mindanao.

“We have compiled and documented these [atrocities] and in due time, if we are given the chance, we will present [them] before the United Nations,” Iqbal added.

If the three commanders would be tagged as terrorists, he said, the Philippine government should also be branded as a terrorist for allegedly causing the death of and injury to civilians in the South.
— AFP With Jefferson Antiporda,Al Jacinto And Angelo S. Samonte(ManilaTimes)

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My Take:

200 soldiers was killed?  Is this official?  How come media reports never mentioned this number before?  Is this a real figure or some inflated numbers just to get the UNs nod to add the 3 MILF leaders int their list of terrorists?

Just asking.

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