MILF and MNLF “can move forward” in quest for peace

DARAPANAN, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao (MindaNews/11 August) – Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim foresees no problem with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the negotiations for a political settlement with the Philippine government, claiming he and MNLF chair Nur Misuari have talked about this in May.

Ebrahim said he and Misuari talked in Dushanbe, capital of the Republic of Tajikistan, when they attended the 37th session of the Organization of Islamic Conference  (OIC’s) Islamic Council of Foreign Ministers (ICFM) from May 18 to 20, 2010.

He said Misuari agreed to establish a coordinating council between the MILF and the MNLF “so the two organizations can move forward”  and that Misuari signed the document in the meeting facilitated by the Office of the OIC Secretary General.

The MNLF holds an observer status in the OIC.  The MILF was set up by former MNLF vice chair Salamat Hashim in the late 1970s.

Since 2001, however, the MILF has been attending OIC sessions, following the establishment of a coordinating council between the MILF and the then MNLF Executive Council.

The MILF and MNLF Executive Council established the Bangsamoro Solidarity Conference on August 7, 2001 and organized the Joint Coordinating Council composed of five (5) members each from the MNLF and the MILF, respectively, and its secretariat composed of 3 members each in May 2002.

The coordinating council document was signed by Ebrahim, then  vice chair of the MILF Central Committee and MILF peace panel chair, and Hatimil Hassan, “interim chair of the MNLF Central Committee,” during their May 2002 meeting.

To recall, Misuari was ousted as MNLF chair by the MNLF Executive Council in April 2001. He was detained for alleged rebellion from November 2001 to April last year. He ran for governor of Sulu but lost in the May 2010 elections.

Ebrahim told MindaNews Monday morning that he told Misuari “we did not negotiate with the Philippine government to abrogate your agreement.” The MNLF had signed a peace agreement with the government in September 1996. He said he explained to Misuari that what the MILF is doing is “to supplement your peace agreement.”

“After all,” he said, “what we are negotiating for is not for the MNLF or the MILF but for the Bangsamoro people so why quarrel over this?”

Ebrahim said Misuari did not recognize the coordinating council with the MNLF Executive Council, hence the need for a new agreement on setting up a coordinating council.

The OIC ICFM’s Resolution No. 2/37-MM on the “Question of Muslims in Southern Philippines,” in fact cites the meeting of the two chairs.

The resolution states that the OIC “urges the MNLF and the MILF to unite their efforts for the peace and development of the Bangsamoro people” and that the OIC “takes note of the content of the Secretary General’s additional report on the meeting held between the two Fronts, welcomes their principle agreement to establish a mechanism for consultation and coordination between them, and expresses thanks to the Secretary General for his fruitful efforts in this regard.”

The same resolution welcomed the “progress made at the sessions of the tripartite meeting between the OIC, the GRP and MNLF with a view to ensuring the full implementation of the Final Peace Agreement;” and  “urges the parties to work together in order to finalize the work of the joint legal committee, in particular the contentious issues and find ways to resolve the difficulties stalling the full implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreement.”

It also called upon the Secretary General to “convene another round of the Tripartite Meeting between the GRP, the MNLF, and the OIC to review the progress of the work of the joint legal committee and the resolution of the difficulties impeding the full implementation of the peace process.”

The resolution also expressed “regrets at the failure to sign the already initialed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which was already initialed by the GRP and the MILF in Malaysia on 5 August 2008” but welcomed the “resumption of negotiation between the GRP and MILF and the agreement to establish an international contact group (ICG), invitation to membership of which has been extended to Turkey, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and Japan” and urged the two sides “to continue negotiating until they reach a peace agreement that would cover all issues with a view to achieving stability and peace in Southern Philippines.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)