URGENT!!!<p>GRP-MILF peace negotiating panels re-establish contact; to resume still undated talks

July 29, 2009 9:32 am 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, July 29 — The negotiating panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have "re-established official contacts” today, after nearly a year of impasse in peace talks, the GRP panel said in an e-mail to the Philippines News Agency (PNA). <P>Undersecretary Rafael Seguis of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who is also GRP panel chairman, said a Joint Statement on the breakthrough was signed today in Kuala Lumpur between himself and MILF panel chairman Mohagher Iqbal, witnessed by Prime Minister Datuk Othman bin Abdul Razak for Malaysia as third-party facilitator.

The parties met for two days in the Malaysian capital, and agreed not only to renew contacts but also “to complete the preparation for the resumption of the talks.”

They did not give a time line for when the negotiations would begin, but the Statement came just a week of “mutual effort to sustain both the Government’s Suspension of Military Offensives (SOMO) and the MILF’s Suspension of Military Actions (SOMA).”

Tangentially, the Joint Statement on the renewed contacts was released as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo left today for bilateral talks on July 30 with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington over issues of mutual concern

Mentioning the issues to be discussed in the Washington visit in her State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) last Monday, President Arroyo said that "high on our agenda will be peace and security issues." She added that "terrorism will be discussed, how (to) meet it, how to end it, how to address its roots in injustice or prejudice — and first and always how to protect lives."

In a Joint Statement that Seguis also made available to the PNA, it said the parties considered the two-day Special Meeting as ending “on a high note with both sides expressing a common desire to restore trust and confidence in addressing major issues in order to pave way for the early resumption of the stalled peace negotiations.”

According to Seguis, they agreed not only to sustain the efforts on the SOMO and SOMA, but also to acknowledge the Memorandum of Understanding on the Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which was the fundamental cause of the breakdown of talks last year, “as an unsigned and yet initialed document.”

They also committed “to reframe the consensus points with the end in view of moving towards the comprehensive compact to bring about a negotiated political settlement.”

The consensus points — to “work for a framework agreement on the establishment of a mechanism on the protection of non-combatants in armed conflict;” and ”on the establishment of International Contact Group (ICG) of groups of states and non-state organizations to accompany and mobilize international support for the peace process.”

The Statement noted that Seguis, as GRP Panel Chairman “took serious note” of the concern of the MILF on the implication of the exclusion from the SOMO of some MILF commanders tagged as “rogues” by the Philippine Government.

President Arroyo’s "desire and commitment to durable peace and sustainable development in Mindanao," and Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Mohd. Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak's “generous and steadfast support and assistance to the pursuit of these goals" were acknowledged by the panels, who expressed gratitude for the role of the two leaders.

According to the Statement, “their joint efforts largely contributed to this significant advancement in the GRP-MILF peace process.” (PNA)

scs/GJB

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