US reiterates support to GPH-MILF peace talks; Bayan Muna wary

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/01 November) — The United States has reiterated its support to the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),  a move that has prompted the militant Bayan Muna to issue a warning on the possible motives surrounding Washington’s increased interest in Mindanao.

“We fully support the Government of the Philippines’ efforts to bring security and stability to the southern Philippines, including through the ongoing peace process [with the MILF],” Kurt Campbell, US assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs said in a statement.

Campbell said that Presidential Peace Adviser Teresita Deles and Mario Victor Leonen, government peace panel chair, briefed him about President Benigno S. Aquino III’s commitment to a negotiated political settlement with the MILF.

The American official was in Manila last week to meet with senior Philippine officials, including Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, to discuss bilateral relations, regional events and upcoming meetings including the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and US-ASEAN leaders meeting in Hawaii and Bali, Indonesia, respectively.

As this developed, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño warned the Aquino administration on the increased interest of the US in Mindanao, noting that White House officials said last Thursday that the conflict in the Southern Philippines is among the primary issues that Washington wants to take up with the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

“Though we want peace in Mindanao, the US should not use the current conflict to once again meddle in our internal affairs. It is obvious that the United States has long standing economic, political and the military interests in Mindanao, given its rich resources and strategic location,’ Casiño said in another statement.

It is public knowledge that the MILF has been trying to court US support for its agenda and the US had “figured prominently as sponsor” of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) fiasco, the militant lawmaker said.

The botched signing of the MOA-AD, which the Supreme Court eventually declared unconstitutional, triggered deadly clashes in 2008 that displaced tens of thousands of people in Lanao, Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.

Most likely, there are those in the American government who would not mind an Islamic sub-state or even an independent state carved from Mindanao, as long as it would be pro-US, Casiño said.

“We are particularly apprehensive of the increasing US hand in the Mindanao conflict, especially its uninterrupted deployment of troops in the guise of providing advice and conducting joint military exercises. This opens the door to increased interference in our internal affairs and leaves us vulnerable to manipulation to serve the US government’s geopolitical and economic agenda in Southeast Asia,” he said.

Casiño said that Rashad Hassan, US special envoy to the OIC, did not disclose the extent of the planned dialogue with the pan-Islamic body on the Mindanao conflict beyond saying that “it would not be anything close to political intervention, to cross borders of national policies with other countries.”

“In the name of the thousands of families that are now being displaced and all peace loving Filipinos, we are calling on the Aquino administration and leadership of the MILF to immediately convene an emergency meeting to limit the fighting and mitigate its impact on the civilian population, but it must also be clear that it should leave the US out of these talks,” Casino said.

According to the October 28 report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, a total of 5,699 families or 28,547 individuals have been displaced by recent skirmishes between government and rebel forces in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)

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