ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Official talks between government and Muslim separatists will resume in April: “A milestone” in the peace process, says president Arroyo

Tuesday, 24 February 2004

Manila (Fides Service) - “A milestone in the peace process” was what Philippines’ President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo described the official news of that talks between the government and Muslim separatists Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), will resume in April. The agreement was reached during explorative talks in Malaysia on 19 and 20 February.
The statement issued on 20 February was signed by Silvestre Afable government commission spokesman and MILF spokesman Mohagher Iqbal.
President Arroyo declared: “Every obstacle has been removed the sides have agreed to deploy cease fire monitoring team in Mindanao (signed in July 2003) and to help the World Bank and other international level donors to start development projects in the war torn area”.
The President is obviously pleased because the news of resumed talks comes close to presidential elections scheduled for 10 May. This agreement will allow Arroyo, to present herself for the vote with a promise of peace. Fides spoke about the situation with Father Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME missionary in Zamboanga City, at the southern end of the island of Mindanao: “News of an agreement is always good news. But we must wait for results. It is true that electoral interests may have had their influence but pressure from Malaysia and the Organisation for the Islamic Conference also had its weight”.
With regard to the proposal for referendum on self rule and secession Father D’Ambra says “it would not seem to be realistic: referendums over self rule have already been held, the government instituted the Muslim Autonomous Region and it cannot renounce the Republic’s territorial unity ”.
With regard to the atmosphere in Mindanao, Father D’Ambra said: “The electoral campaign dominates the scene. But in Cotabato and Kidapawan, where there are many displaced persons, people are more interested in the talks and a solution for a lasting peace”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 23/2/2004 lines 40 words 414)