UK to continue supporting peace efforts with MILF as negotiations resume

July 30, 2009 8:53 am 

By Gloria Jane Baylon

MANILA, July 30 — British ambassador Peter Beckingham today said the United Kingdom (UK) “is willing and stands ready to offer support, advice, assistance and more to the Mindanao peace process,” as reports reached him that the negotiating panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have resumed official contacts and would resume talks.

Beckingham said that the offer stands if both parties felt UK assistance and support is welcomed. He expressed hopes the talks will eventually lead to a peace agreement.

The GRP and the MILF on Wednesday declared that formal talks would resume but did not set a specific date, but possibly next week.

"We are willing and stand ready to offer support, advice, assistance and more to the Mindanao peace process, as long as both the Philippine government and the MILF felt that would be welcome,” Beckingham said at a forum, organized by the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID).

"I've been in Cotabato (Central Mindanao) and the region twice in the last few months and on both occasions I visited some of the camps for the internally displaced persons. It's quite clear that they live in uncomfortable conditions, conditions which shouldn't happen, and the only way those conditions could improve is if the peace process starts again," he said.

The breakthrough came after 11 months of impasse when MILF elements attacked civilian villages in their frustration when the so-called Memorandum of Agreement of Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), that would have granted them a Bangsamoro homeland, was junked by the Philippine Supreme Court as unconstitutional.

In the GRP-MILF Joint Statement that was signed in Kuala Lumpur between GRP chair Rafael Seguis and his MILF counterpart, Mohagher Iqbal, the parties reached a consensus ”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,” among others.

The Statement did not give details of the ICG aspect of the consensus.

Malaysia serves as third-party facilitator of the talks, and would soon resume the participation of its members in the International Monitoring Team.

Beckingham did not refer to an ICG group, though it is known that the UK hosted a team of MILF leaders in London and Belfast last June to meet with experts on negotiations that eventually led to the Belfast Declaration.

Iqbal was one of four MILF leaders who met with junior ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Gerry Kelly and Jeffrey Donaldson. Kelly is a member of Sinn Fein and was an active member of the Irish Republican Army who was imprisoned for his role in bombing the Old Bailey in London.

Donaldson is a member of the Democratic Unionist Party and used to be a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. They also visited community organizations, NGOs and visited the decommissioning body.

Beckingham related that the MILF “had a range of meetings with communities in Northern Ireland to hear how the peace process there have made a huge difference to communities, both Protestant and Catholic.”

"We were delighted that the MILF accepted our invitation to travel to Northern Ireland and London. And we think that, in a small way, marks a significant step in the peace process," Beckingham added.

The MILF delegation was able to think through many of the issues it faces during the peace process in Mindanao – and look for parallels in the Northern Ireland experience. The aim was simply to share experiences and to generate creative thinking, the British embassy said.

The Ambassador gave the assurance that the UK government will continue to support peace and development in Mindanao.

Beckingham ends his tour of duty to the Philippines in August, but said that his successor “intends to continue to be committed to the process that we have started in working with the Ulama, with local government units and other organizations here in Mindanao." (PNA)

DCT/GJB

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