GPH, MILF assure Zambo standoff won’t derail peace talks; condemn Misuari

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KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/11 September) – The peace panels of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have assured the standoff in Zamboanga City would not stall the Mindanao peace process.

In a five-paragraph joint statement issued Tuesday night in Kuala Lumpur, both sides condemned the hostilities allegedly instigated by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under Nur Misuari, the group’s founding chairman.

The government and the MILF resumed Tuesday peace negotiations, which would last for 10 days, to discuss the two remaining annexes on power sharing and normalization.

“The perpetrators must be stopped and held accountable for their acts,” the joint statement said.

The standoff in Zamboanga City, which came after MNLF members loyal to Misuari arrived in some coastal villages of the city reportedly for a “peace rally,” entered its third day Wednesday.

Clashes between the government and the MNLF members erupted early Monday, with the former reportedly holding several civilian hostages.

“Those behind the continued acts of violence in Mindanao do not want the current peace process between the government and the MILF to succeed. Their actions intend to derail the [peace] process using violence and disinformation to spread fear and chaos in Mindanao,” the joint statement said.

“The parties remain committed to pursuing the peace process to its just and rightful conclusion, in the belief that it is through partnership that institutions reflective of the true needs and aspirations of the Bangsamoro and other peoples of Mindanao shall be installed,” it added.

The joint statement also said “the government will abide by its past commitments. The MILF, for its part, encourages their Moro brothers and sisters in the MNLF to work together so that the Moro struggle will benefit all. Both government and the MILF agree to ensure the continuity of the peace option so that the peoples of Mindanao can live in unity and prosperity.”

In her opening statement, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer admitted there are groups and leaders who are waiting for the peace process to fail.

“Their leaders’ goal is to lead people back to the path of violence, using misinformation to justify the use of arms and attacks on civilians,” she said.

“Precisely for this reason, we cannot allow this process to fail. We have to show to one and all that through reason and compassion, through dialogue and cooperation, we can create the process and the institutions that will enable one and all, exercising their free will but refraining from the use of all forms of violence, to rebuild their societies and polities,” Ferrer said.

“By succeeding, we are able to take away the fodder that feeds the fire. We can then focus on the issues, not on the personalities; on the collective grievances, not on the personal vendettas; on the people and the future, over and above tribal and organizational interests and the convoluted past,” she added.

Ferrer said the MNLF elements that occupied some coastal villages in Zamboanga were under Misuari and Ustadz Khabir Malik.

Reports reaching the government peace panel said that nine persons were killed—two from government forces, five from the MNLF and two civilians—and at least 14 others wounded due to the standoff as of 10 a.m. Monday.

Ferrer assured that the government will continue to painstakingly abide by its past commitments, urging the MNLF, which signed a final peace agreement (FPA) with the government on Sept. 2, 1996, to “take this path with us.”

“This is the only way that this process can find continuity –– continuity through this other, complementary, parallel but also converging process so that the gaps are addressed, the issues and their resolutions become conjoined, and the Bangsamoro can live more happily than ever before after having been inflicted with decades of man-made disasters known as war or armed conflict,” she said.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, also issued a strongly-worded opening statement on Tuesday’s resumption of the government-MILF peace talks against the Misuari-led MNLF.

“This is an unfortunate twist of development, because first, this is totally contrary to the official pronouncement of MNLF spokesmen that they will not use force to back up their declaration of independence; and second, violence only begets violence. I don’t think this would help the MNLF any way closer to their objective of whatever level or form of their aspiration,” he said.

Iqbal said now is the time for all concerned parties to handle the issues of MNLF and Misuari in the most appropriate manner.

“It is not getting simpler as days go by. The declaration of independence and the indiscriminate planting of MNLF flags in many parts of Mindanao, including the attempt to raise the flag at the City Hall of Zamboanga City, are more than symbolic. I do not want to imagine it, but one clear complication, nay a casualty, is that the MNLF or at least Misuari has rendered the GRP-MNLF Final Peace Agreement (GRP-MNLF FPA) of 1996 moot and academic,” Iqbal said.

For all intents and purposes, by the very acts of declaring independence and their military adventurism in Zamboanga City, the MNLF or Misuari has unilaterally “abrogated” this agreement, and, therefore, cannot be invoked anymore, legally speaking, he added.

“Be that as it may, nothing is lost by our people and by our MNLF brothers in this “abrogation”. The best of what is in the GRP-MNLF FPA are already subsumed or entrenched even in the GPH-MILF Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB). Many more will be captured or fleshed out once the MILF and GPH sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), hopefully very soon,” Iqbal said.

He assured the final peace agreement of the MILF with the government will be inclusive and would not leave out the MNLF.

Iqbal appealed to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to consider revisiting its usual approach to the GRP-MNLF FPA.

He pointed out that Misuari has literally “abrogated” this agreement and to continue factoring this into the current peace talks is causing complications.

“Besides, ‘convergence’ of the two peace processes is simply not attainable or practical because both in forms and developments they are not congruent. The MNLF track has been virtually consummated, while the MILF’s is still a work in progress,” Iqbal said.

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