Peace groups urge resumption of peace talks "ASAP"

Some 30 participants, representing various sectors in Mindanao, also recommended at the end of the conference on Thursday, the reactivation  of the mechanisms that were operating before the talks collapsed in August 2008, among them the Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (Joint CCCH), Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), and the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT).

The IMT’s mandate expired on November 30 but it could not be extended despite the request of the Philippine government because under the Terms of Reference, the request for extension must come from the two peace panels.

Government, however, dissolved its peace panel on September 3. In early December, the President named Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis as chair of the new panel. Seguis’ panel members were named three weeks later.

Resuming the peace talks was the common recommendation among the workshop groups (see other story) , especially since there are still 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) or evacuees (bakwits) who have yet to return home because of the skirmishes.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) has not updated its record on the evacuees. Its last update was on December 29 where it said that a total of 308,175 persons were still in the evacuation centers. At the height of skirmishes, the number of evacuees reached nearly 600,000.

Despite its having been declared “unconstitutional” by the Supreme Court, the  participants still recommended that MOA-AD be explained to the public in universities and public fora.  Yet another common recommendation was to “undertake a program and research on the history of Mindanao as part of truth-telling initiative.”

They  urged the urged the international community to “use their good offices to give their support to the resumption of the peace process” and to “put Mindanao in their agenda, including the possibility of conducting a referendum by the United Nations.

The Conference said the rights of IDPs should be protected and their grievances responded to.  Government, it added, should continue efforts to facilitate their return to their places of origin.

The first COP was held in Penang in 2006, the second, also in Penang in 2007. The 3rd COP was initially scheduled in December 2008 but was moved to January 12 to 15. It is a project of the Research and Education for Peace, Universiti Sains Malaysia, the Southeast Asian Conflict Studies Network, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Cotabato City-based Institute of Bangsamoro Studies. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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