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GRP, MILF sign pact to form international contact group

September 16, 2009 1:02pm
Peace efforts between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front reached a breakthrough Tuesday night as both parties agreed to form an international contact group (ICG) that will help build mutual trust needed for the resumption of peace talks.

"The Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) welcomes this new development in our peace process that will eventually end the long-drawn armed conflict in Mindanao," Secretary Avelino Razon Jr. of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said in a statement Wednesday.

Razon said that GRP panel chair Ambassador Rafael E. Siguis relayed the good news from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where talks for the possible resumption of peace negotiations are taking place.

According to Razon, the ICG will be composed of interested countries and international non-government organizations (NGOs) “that will aid in building consensus that will effectively enable them to exert proper leverage and to sustain the interest of both the GRP and MILF so as to maintain a level of comfort aimed at restoring mutual trust."

Negotiators from both sides welcomed the ICG pact, which was signed in a "low-profile special meeting" in Kuala Lumpur under the facilitation of Malaysia.

MILF peace panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal said both parties agreed and signed the "framework agreement" for creating the ICG.

"The successful outcome of the GRP-MILF Peace Process hinges on proper leverage by ICG countries," Iqbal said in an article posted on MILF Web site.

He said the ICG is an "ad-hoc in nature and issue-specific in its engagement consistent with an international dimension in aid of consensus that will effectively enable them to exert proper leverage and sustain the interest of the Parties."

An attractive feature is the intent "to maintain a level of comfort that restores mutual trust" between the GRP and the MILF, he said.

"That ICG draws its mandate from both Negotiating Peace Panels and the Third Party Facilitator" justifies its creation by meeting of minds," said lawyer Datu Michael Mastura, a senior member of the MILF peace panel.

The two other members of the MILF delegation included Abdullah Camlian and Jun Mantawil.

ICG mandate

Citing the Framework Agreement, Iqbal said that the ICG’s mandate would be:

* To implement the mutually-agreed approaches during the negotiation on a regular and consistent basis, taking into consideration the mission-specific strategies and security arrangements in cooperation with both Parties.

* To determine their mode of operation, including funding, as well as the adoption of their own internal rules consistent with its mandate, function and role.

* To continue its role and function in ensuring the successful implementation of signed agreements.

The Framework document also spelled out the functions that it will perform:

* To attend and observe the face-to-face negotiations upon invitation by the Parties with the concurrence of the Facilitator.

* To conduct visits, exchange views, and give advice on discreet basis in coordination with the Parties and the Facilitator.

* To seek out the assistance of recognized experts, resource persons or groups on specific issues in order to support the Parties.

* To meet upon request by any of the Parties at various levels to help resolve substantive issues based on agreed agenda.

Also, the Framework document extends the GRP-MILF Safety and Security Guarantees of March 9, 2000 to the ICG in the pursuit of its mandate and function.

The ICG comes into force on the date of its signature on the 15th of September 2009 in Kuala Lumpur.

Suspension of talks

Peace efforts between government and the MILF started in 1997. But the negotiations were stalled in August 2008 after rogue MILF units attacked areas in Mindanao.

The attacks stemmed from the Supreme Court's junking of a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain (MOA-AD).

On August 13, hostilities between some MILF members and the military that killed 54 people threatened the preparatory talks in Kuala Lumpur. But Malacañang assured the negotiations will continue.

On the other hand, the MILF said Seguis expressed difficulties with multilateral membership based on a bloc of states.

GRP peace panel spokesman lawyer Camilo Montesa stressed that the ICG will consist of individual countries accompanying the peace process.

Preferably members will be drawn from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the European Union (EU) as well as accredited INGO to be invited by the Parties in consultation with the Third Party Facilitator.

The MILF said the meeting, which started at around 11 a.m. Tuesday, went at many times stormy when both Parties exchanged hard stand on their respective draft proposals.

At first, the MILF’s proposal was for the creation of an international guarantee group (IGG) which will ensure that both Parties would comply with their commitments based on signed documents.

The MILF said that it would only return to the negotiating table if there is a mechanism in place to guarantee that the parties would comply so that the debacle in Kuala Lumpur on August 5, 2008 when the government reneged and did not sign this document would not be repeated.

But the MILF did not press on with the creation IGG and mellowed down to the ICG after the government peace panel explained that the IGG smacked of the sovereignty of the Philippines. - GMANews.TV
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