Manila, Muslim rebels reach deal on homeland
ZAMBOANGA CITY: Philippine negotiators and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels reached an agreement yesterday on the issue of ancestral domain, a breakthrough in the seven-year old peace talks aimed at putting an end to more than four decades bloody fighting in Mindanao.
Philippine peace adviser Secretary Hermogenes Esperon said both panels have agreed on the deal at the end of meeting late yesterday in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.
“The issue on the ancestral domain is finally settled and we now go to the final peace talks where all previous agreements will be formally signed. We have informed President Gloria Arroyo about the progress of the talks and she is very elated,” Esperon said.
The MILF earlier in the day said the issue on the ancestral domain must be resolved immediately. It said will not sign any peace deal with the Arroyo government unless its demand for self-determination is granted.
*Â Unfortunately for the hapless Philippino government, it won’t stop there. Because the believers are obligated to make the world Islamic: the world belongs to Allah, because it says so in the Koran.Â Autonomy? Land deals? Foggeddabbautit! It will only encourage the soldiers of Allah to demand more. Because they’re entitled to it.Â Because It says so in the Koran and the sunnah…
Peace talks was stalled since September last year after both sides failed to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue â€” ancestral domain â€” which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland.
Ancestral domain is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement with the Philippine government.
The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. Even the island province of Palawan in the central Philippines is covered.
Eid Kabalu, an MILF leader, said they are optimistic that the talks would lead to a peaceful solution to the Muslim secessionist problems in Mindanao.
“We have repeatedly said that we are for a peaceful solution of the problems in Mindanao. We have opened the door in order for the talks to push through and for both sides to arrive at a viable formula that will benefit us all, all for peace in Mindanao,” he said in a separate interview.
“We have been longing for the realizations and conclusion on the talks on ancestral domain and peace can now take off in our homeland,” Kabalu said.
Esperon has largely credited the success of the talks to the efforts of the president to bring about peace in the southern Philippines and the government and MILF peace panels, including the Cabinet and the Armed Forces of the Philippines for its support to the peace process.
The agreement was reached more than a month after Arroyo appointed Esperon as peace adviser replacing Jesus Dureza, who is now the Press Secretary.
Esperon, a former military chief, last month vowed to pursue the peace talks with the MILF and sign a peace deal before Arroyo’s term ends on 2010.
Arroyo opened peace talks with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, in 2001, but there have been no major agreement to end the insurgency in the troubled region, except for a cease-fire accord.
But despite the truce, sporadic fighting between rebels and soldiers still continue in Mindanao with both sides accusing each other of violating the accord. In July last year, rebel forces killed 14 soldiers in a fierce battle in Basilan island after security forces encroached inside an MILF stronghold while pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants tied to Al-Qaeda.
The MILF is fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao Island, whose 16 million populations include about 4 million Muslims.
Manila previously offered the MILF the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989.
The MILF flatly rejected the offer and insisted on self-determination.