MILF has yet to receive Leonen's letter re explo talks

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 December 2010) – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has not received the December 2 letter of invitation from government peace panel chair Marvic Leonen for exploratory talks on or before December 14.

The letter, handcarried by Leonen to Kuala Lumpur on December 2, was received by Malaysian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Richard Riot.

Communication between the Philippine government and MILF peace panels is through Malaysia, the country facilitator of the talks since 2001.

Leonen had suggested “December 6, 7, 8, 13, 14 as possible dates” for the exploratory talks “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.

“I will wait,” Iqbal told MindaNews on December 5, when Leonen made public his December 2 visit to KL.

As of late afternoon of December 10, however, Iqbal told MindaNews  that the letter has not reached him.

Iqbal said 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.

Leonen had said Deputy Minister Riot who received the letter, would turn over the letter to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister.

Talks have 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.

In his State of the Nation Address on July 26, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III had expressed hope that the peace negotiations would begin “after Ramadan.” Ramadan ended on September 9.

Leonen told MindaNews on December 5 that 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.

Leonen went to Kuala Lumpur on December 2 to handcarry a letter from President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to Prime Minister Najib, a copy of the note verbale of the Department of Foreign Affairs requesting Malaysia to extend the mandate of its contingent in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) to three more months and his own letter to Iqbal.

He said  the letters he brought to KL “were received by the deputy minister for foreign affairs Richard Riot. He in turn will turn it over to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister.”

Leonen explained the letter of President Aquino “was in response to the written acceptance by Prime Minister Najib to continue the facilitation of the talks between the GPH (Government of the Philippines) and the MILF.”

“This formal acceptance was received late November,” he said.  Malaysia had earlier accepted the offer of facilitation verbally. The November letter was the written acceptance, he said.

Leonen added that in his letter, President Aquino “acknowledged the importance of going into the substantive phase of the talks. At the same time, he expressed confidence that Malaysia will act on the concerns communicated by the government regarding the facilitation.”

“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 said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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