US officials meet with MILF anew

Jones met with MILF officials three months ago also in Sultan Kudarat.

Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel told MindaNews the visitors stayed for about two hours. Jones’ team met with him, MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar, MILF peace panel member Lanang Ali and “two other Central  Committee members.” MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim was unavailable.

Iqbal said the visitors also briefed them on “US activities in Mindanao.”

“It was a long talk,” Iqbal said.

With Jones, he said, were Scott Douglas Bellard, counselor for political affairs; Col. David Maxwell, US Army commander of the Joint Special Operation Task force-Philippines; Col Bruce West, Defense and Air Attache and three more embassy officials.

On November 16 last year, Jones and Bellard, along with with Stephen F. Worobec, Political Officer, and two security escorts also met with Iqbal and company.

“The US is getting serious in Mindanao affairs,” Iqbal said, explaining the development as “cautiously, it’s positive.”

But Iqbal said they told the US officials that the economic aspect of the peace talks should not precede the political.

The US government in 2003 promised $30 million dollars assistance as soon as the peace agreement is signed.

Earlier attempts to have the MILF included in the United States’ list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) had failed although the Front is still being linked to the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah, an allegation Iqbal and company had repeatedly denied.

The website of the US Embassy in Manila mentioned nothing about today’s visit to the MILF. There was also no press release on the Nov. 16 visit although a nine-page “special report” on “Securing Peace in Mindanao through Diplomacy, Development and Defense,” notes that both the Philippine and US governments are “pursuing a successful strategy incorporating diplomacy, development, and defense to secure peace and defeat terrorists in Mindanao.

This strategy is based on the principle that the threat of terrorism is eliminated only when both terrorists and the ideology that supports their actions are defeated.”

At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam on November 18, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo sought “deeper and broader involvement by the United States in the Mindanao peace process in tandem with the US-Philippines partnership in the fight against terror.”

“The President sounded the call for heightened US participation in the Mindanao peace process and development in her meeting with President George W. Bush this morning at the National Convention Centre here, the venue of the 14th APEC Leaders meeting,” the Office of the Press Secretary reported on the same day.

Ms Arroyo said her administration was pursuing a “broad agenda of self-determination for Mindanao through interfaith dialogues and development,” efforts that she believes "will provide a second wind for US involvement in Southeast Asia for advancing freedom and prosperity."

“She said the US is already involved in fighting terrorism in Mindanao and helping Filipino soldiers bring permanent peace and prosperity to the region,” the OPS said.

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