No explo talks with MILF in December; Gov't hopes for January talks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 December) –  The government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  on December 5 expressed hope he and  the MILF peace panel chair could meet for exploratory talks “on or before December 14.” Today, he hopes they can meet at the earliest, in January.

Government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen said government “has been ready and awaiting confirmation from MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal to welcome their invitation sent through the third party facilitator Malaysia.”

Iqbal, however, has not received the invitation which Leonen handcarried to Kuala Lumpur and which Deputy Minister Richard Riot on December 2, or 20 days ago.

In that letter, Leonen suggested  “December 6, 7, 8, 13 and 14 as possible dates” for the exploratory talks intended to address “urgent concerns.”

Though he did not specify in his letter that the venue be Kuala Lumpur, Leonen told MindaNews he is open to meeting with Iqbal in KL.

Communication between the panels is coursed through the third party-facilitator, Malaysia.

Speaking during a a “dinner fellowship with some media representatives” in Pasig City on Tuesday, Leonen said “the earliest, we hope, will be in January next year. We are open to holding the sessions anywhere, but it could be in Kuala Lumpur.”

“Circuitous”

Leonen told MindaNews on December 5 that Deputy Minister Riot, who received the letter, would turn over the letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs who would then send it over to the Office of the Prime Minister. But 20 days later, the letter has yet to reach Iqbal.

Iqbal earlier told MindaNews Leonen should have handed the letter to the office of the facilitator, Datuk Othman bin Razak at the Office of the Prime Minister-Research Department (OPM-RD) “which is in charge of the peace talks” or the Malaysian secretariat. The latter is lodged in the office of the OPM-RD.

“I don’t know how the letter will reach me. It’s too circuitous,” Iqbal said in a telephone interview on December 10. Twelve days later, Iqbal is still waiting for Leonen’s letter.

Talks had run aground even before the two panels could sit across the negotiating table, on the issue of  retaining or replacing Othman. The government peace panel wants Othman replaced for alleged bias, the MILF wants him retained.

“Urgent concerns”

Leonen said among the “urgent concerns” that need to be addressed by the two chairs are the facilitation issue and security guarantees, including the case of Engr. Eduard Guerra (passport name Abraham Yap Alonto) who was arrested on September 22 at the Davao International Airport en route to Geneva, Switzerland, to attend a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The MILF Central Committee resolution on October 11, 2010 protested the arrest of Guerra, urged the dropping of charges against him and asked that he be released without delay.

The resolution also said Guerra, a member of the MILF Central Committee, is covered by the safety and security guarantees provided to MILF members who are directly and principally involved in the peace process.

“We are confident that Malaysia is ready to address our concerns relating to the facilitation as soon as possible. Our letter shows that we are eager to restart the talks as soon as possible.” Leonen told MindaNews on December 5.

Facilitation issues

The OPAPP’ December 22  statement said Leonen hopes the facilitation issues will be resolved soon to pave the way for the conduct of informal sessions and resumption of formal peace talks.

“It is very clear that the Philippine government wanted the best chance for a full settlement to gain acceptance from the public. So we have to settle the facilitation issues,” he said.

Leonen stressed that the government is “eager to start the talks and accomplish political negotiated settlement within the soonest possible time.”

“The President wants to implement it within the six-year period. Working backwards, that means it could be possible to have an acceptance of a politically negotiated settlement by the middle of the term,” the OPAPP statement quoted Leonen as saying.

“This means that before it happens, the settlement should be clear already to both parties,” he added.

“Don’t worry”

MindaNews sought Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines, Dato’ Seri Dr. Ibrahim Saad for comment on the status of  Leonen’s letter for Iqbal which was coursed through the Malaysian Foreign Ministry.

“Don’t worry. Everything is in good hands, the peace negotiation will go on,” he told MindaNews in a text message Monday afternoon.

“Both governments (Philippines and Malaysia) are in the know. Let us give them a chance to move forward,” he said.

He declined to elaborate, saying only, in another message, “both governments are in the know, so let us leave it at that.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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