Day One of GPH-MILF peace talks ends on high note; Day 2 sessions begin

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KUALA LUMPUR  (MindaNews/28 April) –  The smiles on the faces of  the peace negotiators and members of the International Contact Group  as  they came out of the Penang Room of Sheraton Imperial Hotel at 6:37 p.m. Wednesday, augured well for the second formal exploratory talks under the Aquino administration, the first under a new facilitator.

“It ended on a high note,” David Gorman of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a member of the International Contact Guarantee (ICG) told MindaNews.

“Good, good. Really good. Everybody’s smiling,” said Emma Leslie of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in Cambodia, representing Conciliation Resources, another ICG member-NGO.

The closed-door session on  the discussion of the draft comprehensive compact presented in the February talks by the MILF  peace panel, started at 2 p.m. with the new facilitator, Tengku Dato’ Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed.  It involved  only  nine each from the government and MILF – peace panel  members and members of their secretariat and eight members of the ICG country and INGO representatives and members of the Malaysian secretariat.

The session, a Question and Answer format on the MILF’s peace draft, ended at 6:37 p.m. interrupted only by a coffee break for all and a “cool down” break for the MILF peace panel, particularly for one of its members who, sources from both panels said, felt slighted by comments on the draft’s lapses in clarity and even grammar. The offended MILF peace panel member, MindaNews’ sources from both sides, said government was “nitpicking.”

The MILF presented its draft peace agreement to the government peace panel in the first exploratory talks in February. Government peace panel chair Dean Marvic Leonen told local government officials in Maguindanao during a consultation on April 13 that the government peace panel will present  the draft of its proposed peace settlement with MILF in the next exploratory talks after the April talks.

He also assured the governor, mayors, vice mayors, provincial board members and their representatives, that President Aquino does not want a repeat of what happened to the GPH-MILF’s Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) in 2008.

In his opening statement Wednesday morning, Leonen thanked the MILF “for allowing us in this round of talks to query you on the Revised Comprehensive Compact that you submitted as a statement of your position.”

“We hope that you would take our questions in the spirit in which we have to make them: to elicit your interpretation so that we or our principals will not second guess what your initial positions are.  You will see in our questions the levels of detail we went as we combed through your proposals.  We have put into it the diligence that it deserves knowing the kind of work that you have already put into it.  Please understand that we too have been working on our own proposals at many levels of our bureaucracy,” he said.
The government peace panel had earlier sent its questions to the MILF peace panel.

“Except for extraordinary reasons, our ideal for a final agreement is that it is brief but clear and determinate as to what our principals promise.  We should always be on guard for text that may contain different meanings to both parties.  They may just be pitfalls for future misunderstandings and serious conflicts.  After all, we share with you the hope that we do not sign an agreement solely because we want an agreement.  We want an agreement that is workable on all levels while addressing most of the fundamental interests in a principled way.
Except for the “cool down” break, the Q and A session proceeded smoothly.
Government peace panel members filed out of the Penang Room first,  immediately proceeding to a caucus. The MILF peace panel members were the last to leave the room.

The new facilitator, Ghafar, declined to be interviewed. “Ask them, don’t ask me,” he said, pointing to the panel members and ICG members.

The panels resumed negotiations Thursday at half past nine in the morning, tackling “other matters.” First on the agenda was the update on the MILF detainees.  At 10 a.m., Brig. General Restituto Aguilar, senior military adviser of the peace panel and Maj. Carlos Sol, head of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) were called to the meeting room for the discussion on Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (see other story).

The session on Kato ended at 10:39 a.m. with everyone taking a break. Leonen said the MILF told them Kato is still with the MILF and that the government’s position on the matter is the same as in February. Leonen then said, “For now, we will hold the MILF to their representations regarding Umbra Kato and his men. However, I am also informed that our military and police forces maintain the usual state of defensive readiness keeping in mind the primacy of the peace process,” he said.
Also listed under “other matters” are security guarantees and immunity of parties; and outstanding matters on the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and International Monitoring Team. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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