GRP, MILF ok Ancestral Domain issues; IMT stay likely extended, Canada in

It was the first time both parties held "exploratory talks" since the impasse on the territory issue in September 2006 although "question and answer" and "special" meetings were held in December, in August and October this year.

"Building on the progress attained during the special meeting last October, both sides affirmed all previous points of consensus on the core items of the territory issue, and achieved significant headway in defining key principles relating to maritime domains," the Joint Communique signed by government peace panel chair Rodolfo Garcia and MILF peace panel chair Moghaher Iqbal, said.

"Positive, positive," Iqbal told MindaNews in a telephone interview. He said another exploratory talk is expected to be held in December in preparation for early next year's formal talks.

The last time the two panels held formal talks was in October 2001.

Garcia and Iqbal paid a courtesy call on Deputy Prime Minister and concurrent Minister of Defense Dato' Seri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak "who responded positively" to their appeal to extend for another year the tour of duty of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) and to expand the IMT areas of coverage as agreed upon in August, the Communique said.

The usual tour of duty of the IMT is one year but the tour of duty of the present 4th batch of IMT personnel is subject to review after three months, which falls this month.

The two panels also accepted the offer of the government of Canada to join the non-military contingent of the IMT. Canada is reportedly interested in assisting in the governance aspect. At present, Canada has a Local Government Support Program specifically for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the core area for the future Bangsamoro Juridical Entity of the MILF.

Malaysia leads the military contingent of the IMT, with member-countries Libya and Brunei. Japan had earlier joined the IMT on the development aspect.

The two parties also agreed to "immediately renew the interim guidelines of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) for a period of one year beginning November 16, 2007."

The AHJAG's interim guidelines expired on June 21 this year. The AHJAG is a mechanism where both parties can conduct joint military pursuit against criminal elements in the so-called MILF areas.

The two panels also "considered and accepted" the proposal of the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (Fondation Suisse de D'minage), "subject to the final determination of the terms of reference by the Joint Ceasefire Committees."

The PCBL and the Swiss Foundation proposed trainings and activities that will be undertaken with the IMT and the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the Philippine government and the MILF. 

The two-day talks ended with no mention of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chair Nur Misuari's opening statement at the Tripartite Meeting with the Philippine government and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia last Saturday.

Misuari, through a statement read by MNLF spokesperson Al Tillah, questioned the legality of the Philippine government's peace negotiations with the MILF.

"Not a word," said a government peace panel member.

"Hindi pinag-usapan si Nur dito" (There was no mention of Nur here), Iqbal said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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