GRP-MILF informal talks in Malaysia postponed

But not due to offensives in south By Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net, Agence France-Presse
Last updated 06:37pm (Mla time) 08/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Informal peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur have been postponed, the government’s chief negotiator, retired general Rodolfo Garcia, said Tuesday.

But Garcia said the postponement had nothing to do with the ongoing military offensives in Basilan and Sulu but was “unilateral on my part because I wanted to clarify some points in the government package offer to the other side. Right now, we’re in the middle of that process within the Cabinet security cluster. That’s all there is to it,” he told INQUIRER.net in a phone interview.

 

Government negotiators were supposed to fly to Kuala Lumpur Monday for the talks, which were scheduled for Wednesday.

“I want to go to the meeting better prepared…If the resetting is for time spent to clarify and refine the government position, then it would be well worth the wait,” he added, refusing to identify what specific aspect he wanted discussed with government policy makers.

Garcia said he has formally informed both the MILF and Malaysia, which is brokering the talks, of the postponement.

Asked about their reaction to the postponement, Garcia said: “Everyone is excited over this, not just the MILF, but people who have deep interest in the developments in Mindanao, including members of the international community involved in the regional efforts…So there must be a little bit of disappointment, especially if all their bags are packed. There’s an element of disappointment but I think they understand.”

 

MILF negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said Tuesday that his group was ready for the talks but had been told by the Malaysian facilitator that Garcia had “not been given clear guidelines on how to proceed with the peace process.”

 

“That means we cannot resume the talks because the government is not prepared to concede anything,” Iqbal told ABS-CBN television in an interview, claiming that Manila had put off the talks once before in May.

 

The 12,000-strong MILF late last year said the talks were on the brink of collapse over its demands for economic control of ancestral lands on the southern island of Mindanao.

Garcia said he does not know when the talks would resume, but said that if it were up to him, he would want the negotiations finished before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“But you know, in this case, it takes three to tango,” he said, referring to the government, the MILF, and Malaysia.

The former Armed Forces vice chief of staff said he is optimistic about the overall development of the peace talks. “This is the 14th exploratory talks. Double seven, they say, is lucky,” he said.

Garcia said the mechanisms for keeping the MILF out of harm’s way in the military’s current offensive against the Abu Sayyaf are in place.

But the talks were endangered July 10 when MILF forces in Basilan ambushed and battled Marines, killing 14 soldiers. Ten of the slain troops were beheaded but the MILF denied responsibility for this.

 

Hostilities were prevented after a joint government-MILF probe that identified Abu Sayyaf members as responsible for mutilating the dead soldiers.

 

A three-year ceasefire between the two parties has largely held although skirmishes have occasionally broken out.

 

The military launched an offensive on August 13 against the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, but President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said troops should respect the “ceasefire guidelines” with the MILF.

 

Military officials say they are coordinating with the MILF to ensure their forces do not get caught up in the operation but sources have charged that MILF fighters are helping the Abu Sayyaf.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: