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DFA briefs foreign diplomats on Zamboanga crisis

September 11, 2013 9:18am

Zambo evacuees housed in several govt centers
Zambo evacuees housed in several govt centers. Zamboanga City workers help distribute relief goods to evacuees at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Grandstand on Tuesday, September 10. Thousands of evacuees are temporarily housed in several government centers after clashes between government security forces and MNLF gunmen continued on the second day. Philippine Information Agency Region IX
Foreign diplomats were briefed Tuesday by the government at the Department of Foreign Affairs on the current situation in Zamboanga City where Philippine forces and Muslim rebels are locked in a standoff.
At least four were killed, 24 injured and around 180 were taken hostage when a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front supporting the group’s founding chairman Nur Misuari stormed Zamboanga City Monday. 
The attacks were launched as Philippine negotiators were to resume talks with another Muslim rebel group – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – in a bid by both sides to finalize a peace deal before President Benigno S. Aquino III ends his term in 2016.  
Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, AFP spokesman, who was among those who briefed the diplomats a day after the armed conflict erupted in Zamboanga, said the envoys raised concerns on the impact of the fighting on civilians.
“One of the concerns that they raised is the humanitarian assistance of the internally displaced. We told them that the local government unit in Zamboanga is on top of this and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police are assisting them in ensuring the needs of the internally displaced persons,” Tutaan told reporters after the two-hour briefing held late Tuesday afternoon.
The envoys, Tutaan said, have conveyed to the Philippine government their readiness to provide humanitarian assistance if needed.
“We assured them that we will bring the matter to the local government units so coordination can be done,” he said.
Call for peaceful resolution
Indonesian Ambassador Kristiarto Legowo called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
“As for Indonesia, we would like to see that we would be able to find a peaceful resolution to this problem as soon as possible so we may avoid more casualties,” Legowo said.
Indonesia currently chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference - Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (OIC-PCSP), which brokered the 1992-1996 peace talks between the government and the MNLF under the leadership of Misuari. The talks eventually led to the signing of the 1996 peace agreement.
The MNLF used to be the largest Muslim rebel group seeking a separate state in Mindanao until it dropped secessionist demand and settled for limited autonomy or the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao under the peace accord. But many of its guerillas held on to their firearms and periodically staged rebellions in the past, complaining the government has reneged on its promise to develop full Muslim regions.
The MNLF said it wants Indonesia to intervene in the ongoing standoff but Legowo said Indonesia has not received a formal request from the group.
The Indonesian Embassy in Manila on Monday said it is awaiting orders from Jakarta on the MNLF's reported request for them to intervene.
Amid allegations by the MNLF that the Philippine government has terminated the peace accord, a meeting has been scheduled in Indonesia on September 15 to 16 to tackle the progress of the 1996 agreement.
Legowo said he hopes the meeting will push through.
“We want to see it materialize,” he said.
Zahid Rastam, Counsellor at the Malaysian Embassy, said its authorities are on alert should MNLF fighters escape to nearby Malaysian-controlled Sabah.
“We have what is called the Eastern Sabah Security Command and they have been taking precautions to make sure that security among the borders between Sabah and Southern Philippines are in control and they continue to monitor the situation,” Rastam said. 
Asked how the crisis will affect the ongoing talks between the Philippine government and the MILF, which is being facilitated by Malaysia, he said: “We look forward to successful peace talks. The government of the Republic of the Philippines is committed to that and Malaysia will be doing our utmost as the role of facilitator and host to the peace process.” —KG, GMA News
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