EU Ambassador hopeful that peace talks will resume

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 Dec) – European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Alistair MacDonald said he is hoping for the peace talks to resume so that Mindanao communities affected by conflict can move on and rebuild their lives.

“We hope that peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will resume as soon as possible. We support the government’s efforts to strengthen talks with the MILF and the NDF (National Democratic Front),” Macdonald told reporters during the launching Monday evening of the Bantay Ceasefire video documentary. The video highlights the experiences and situations of community-based volunteers monitoring the ceasefire between government forces and the MILF.
MacDonald said the European Union is not dismayed at all by all the delays in the resumption of talks because putting an end to war is “never easy.” “Nobody ever thought that building peace is easy,” he said. “If it had been, it would have been done a long time ago. In fact, it’s a very difficult process.”
He said the European Union has been supporting the efforts of government to strengthen peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the National Democratic Front (NDF).
EU has approved a grant of 250,000 euros (roughly 15 million pesos) as logistical support for Bantay Ceasefire, which covers transportation vehicles and motorcycles, cameras, computers, recorders, backpacks and other materials, including Bantay Ceasefire vests.
MacDonald said he was particularly moved by what one of the volunteers said on the video. “He said this is not a bulletproof vest, this is only a cotton vest but the volunteer’s work saves lives by helping prevent war in the communities; it also saves the lives of the volunteers wearing it by making them more visible, so, this is a ‘life-saving vest’,” the Ambassador said.
“We are very pleased to help but the support we’re giving is minor,” he said, “What really is important is the commitment of volunteers. They’re at the forefront of the conflict, they’re the people on the ground and they’re the ones who make the difference,” he said.
EU has been a part of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) since January this year and has been taking part in the humanitarian work within the IMT. MacDonald said the EU assistance in Mindanao is focused on combating poverty, building peace and offering substantial humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict. He also said that EU has approved some 1.9-million euro grant for the civilian protection component of three civil society groups in the next 18 months. EU has also contributed some 6 million euros in the Mindanao Trust Fund in 2006.
“We prefer, though, that there would soon be no need to provide humanitarian assistance so that we can concentrate all our efforts on rebuilding and development,” MacDonald stressed.
Rexall Q. Kaalim, one of those who initiated the Bantay Ceasefire, said the video documentary highlights the experiences and situations encountered by Bantay Ceasefire volunteers. He also said most of the 800 volunteers have been victims of war themselves, doing volunteer work as their commitment to put an end to the conflict that tear families and communities apart.
Volunteers accompany civilians to evacuation centers and accompany them home when they return. They also get involve in investigative missions, monitor ceasefire violations on the ground and human rights violations. Sometimes, they also get too close to the sites of skirmishes and violence, putting their lives at stake, said Kaalim, who helped start the community-based initiative in 2002. (Germelina Lacorte / MindaNews)