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PH govt, Muslim rebels relaunch peace talks in KL

Secretary Jesus Dureza: peace is not an easy task; it's complicated. FILE PHOTO
The online news portal of TV5

KUALA LUMPUR - The Philippines on Saturday restarted peace talks with the country's largest Muslim rebel group, the first under President Rodrigo Duterte aimed at ending decades of violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Negotiators for the two sides said the weekend talks in Malaysia would discuss details of Duterte's peace road map.

"They will discuss the road map to clarify certain issues. But let me warn everyone, it is not an easy task. It is very complicated," Jesus Dureza, presidential adviser on the peace process, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur without elaborating.

At the talks in the Malaysian capital are Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza, Peace Facilitator YM Tenku Dato' Ab Ghafar Tengku Mohamed, MILF Chairman Alhaj Murad Ebrahim and Malaysian Deputy Minister of Defense Y.B Dato' Sri Mohd Johari Bin Baharum.

Dureza said, in a news release of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process posted on August 11, the composition of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC)— the body tasked to draft a Bangsamoro enabling law — was on the agenda of their meeting.

The OPAPP Secretary said an idea that could be tackled is the expansion of the BTC composition to include MNLF leaders, officials of the ARMM, and other sectors in Mindanao.

“The current setup of the BTC is composed of eight representatives from the MILF and seven appointees of the government,” the OPAPP said in its Aug. 11 news release.

President Dutere said on Friday in Jolo, Sulu province he would likely meet Misuari “after the level of the panels is completed and everything had been laid down.”

”So, ang trabaho ko, when I became President was really to seek peace not war. At inumpisahan ko na kaagad iyong peace talks, pati iyong mga tao dito, pati kay Nur, kilala kami matagal na. I’ve been telling him, “Nur, can we just talk about, tapos maghanap tayo ng paraan kung papano,” Duterte said.

The President also said he had told Dureza “to talk to Nur at kung maari sabi ko, isabay ko na lang, kasi magastos iyong isa’t-isa. Puwede naman iyang in the discussion, half of the discussion with Nur and half to discussion would be with the MILF.”

Hopes raised, then dashed

The 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front has waged a bloody insurgency in the mainly Muslim southern Philippines since the 1970s but an accord signed in 2014 had raised hopes of a lasting peace.

Under the accord, the rebels would have only given up their arms after a law was passed creating an autonomous homeland in Mindanao and a regional government was elected.

The vote was meant to take place alongside the May 2016 general election.

However, a bungled raid into MILF territory that killed 44 police commandos in 2015 helped derail the passage of the law and stalled the peace process with the rebels.

Dureza described the relaunching of the talks in Malaysia, the first formal sit-down between the two sides since Duterte took office, as a "big milestone for peace in Mindanao".

MILF chief Murad Ebrahim said he welcomed fellow Muslim rebel Nur Misuari, chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), to join the transition commission to establish the "Bangsamoro" autonomous region in the south.

"For the inclusion of brother Nur Misuari, the MILF welcomes him joining because we believe there has to be inclusivity in finding a solution to the problem in the Bangsamoro homeland. We need all the players to be onboard," he said.

Successful peace process will shut out IS

While there were some people in the southern Philippines inspired by the Islamic State jihadists, Ebrahim said "if the peace process was successful, they (IS) will not garner the people's support."

The Philippine Muslim separatists comprise three main groups -- the MNLF and breakaway factions the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group.

Armed Muslim groups have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent Islamic state or autonomous rule in the south, which they regard as their ancestral home, and the conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The conflict has condemned millions of people across Mindanao to brutal poverty and created fertile conditions for Islamic extremism, with the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf and other hardline militants making remote areas their strongholds.

The weekend talks took place a day after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte said he would meet MNLF founder Nur Misuari early next year.

Last Aug. 9, Dureza said the KL meeting would zero-in on the mechanism that would determine how the new enabling law would be crafted and key provisions of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that could already be implemented.

“If everything goes well, and it is acceptable in their convergence, that can be very well be the mechanism to start of the groups to already come together and craft of the enabling law,” Dureza said on Aug. 9 in a press briefing before heading to Kuala Lumpur.

With Dureza in the Malaysian capital are the chair of the implementing panel Irene Santiago, and OPAPP Undersecretaries Diosita Andot and Nabil Tan, and OPAPP Assistant Secretaries Dickson Hermoso and Rolando Asuncion.