MILF, UNICEF sign pact on women, children in conflict-affected areas

The MILF called the accord historic being the first between the Moro rebel group and a United Nations body.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, MILF chair, and Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui, UNICEF country representative, signed the joint communiqué at the MILF's Camp Darapanan, in Sultan Kudarat town, Shariff Kabunsuan Province, luwaran.com reported on April 14.

Von Al Haq, chair of the MILF's Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, told MindaNews it has a bearing on the peace process.

"Peace negotiations should be complemented by any development, both infrastructure and humanitarian, including ensuring the respect and protection of human rights," he said in a text message Saturday.

He said the joint communiqué proves that the peace process between the government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MILF is moving forward.

He said the UN intervention shows the peace process has gained more international recognition and support.

"It shows the ground is conducive for development program, particularly in conflict-affected areas," he said.

Representatives of the Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities, the International Monitoring Team, and the MILF’s Bangsamoro Development Authority were reported to have witnessed the signing.

The website quoted Dr. Danda Juanday, Bangsamoro Development Agency executive director, as saying the MILF and UNICEF have agreed that the rights of children and women should be upheld at all times and that they should not be deprived of essential services in any given situation.

"The BDA and UNICEF joint undertakings will significantly boost the ongoing GRP-MILF peace process particularly the peace building efforts on the ground," he said.

The program will include the "Days of Peace" campaign starting April 16 in barangays jointly identified as severely hit by armed conflict, most inaccessible and having a substantial number of affected children and women.

The drive, the website said, involves health interventions such as immunization, micronutrient supplementation, de-worming and counseling on breastfeeding.

Alipui said UNICEF's intention is not only to provide services for the children and women but "more importantly to give them hope".

"In so doing, we must reach the most disadvantage communities, children and women who have been affected by the conflict for so many years," the website quoted him as saying.

The MILF claimed its policy prohibits the involvement of children in its war efforts. The report said children should be under the care of their parents not organizations like MILF and that they should be sent to school.

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