Sunday, July 27, 2008

Headlines - July 27,2008

Govt claims breakthrough in peace talks with MILF in KL

07/27/2008 | 09:28 PM

MANILA, Philippines – Government peace negotiators on Sunday night claimed to have made a breakthrough in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF) on ancestral domain.

Presidential peace process adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the "breakthrough" was achieved at 8:15 p.m., and would pave the way for the signing of a framework next month.

"With this positive development in the negotiations, the signing of the framework on ancestral domain is tentatively set early August this year," Esperon said.

2 Marines wounded in Sulu clash

07/27/2008 | 07:28 PM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - At least two Marines were wounded in a clash Sunday with unidentified gunmen in the southern Philippine island of Pangutaran off Sulu province.

Authorities did not give any statement about the fighting and spokesmen and security officials ignored calls by journalists who were verifying the report.

The names of the two Marines who suffered gunshot wounds in the firefight on the island, a known hideout of pirates and Abu Sayyaf militants, were unavailable.

Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan said the island's leaders sought the help of the military to run after the gangs who were behind extortion activities and attacks on fishermen and ferries at sea.

"There is an operation in Pangutaran and we are supporting the ongoing military and police operation aimed at neutralizing lawless elements," Tan told GMANews.TV.

Police said it would deploy more forces on the island to secure civilians and protect them from possible attacks by lawless groups. Senior Superintendent Julasirim Kasim vowed to “enforce law and order on the island."

Kasim said he would replace the current police chief on the island.

The fighting occurred as politicians running for the August 11 elections in the Muslim autonomous region were campaigning. Sulu is one of five provinces that comprise the autonomous region.

Bishop wants religious leaders to mediate in GRP-MILF talks

07/27/2008 | 04:30 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The presence of a third party would be helpful for the success of the peace talks between the government and the Moro International Liberation Front (MILF), a senior member of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said Sunday.

“We should ask the intermediation of a third party to make sure both sides are really sincere and that they are sticking with the agreement,” said Cagayan de Oro Arhcbishop Antonio Ledesma.

Ledesma said the peace problem in Mindanao should not be considered as an internal issue since it also affects the peace process and situation in Southeast Asia.

“Even if it’s within the Philippine territory, Muslim communities have this sense of brotherhood all over the world. So this situation has also become the concern of many other countries,” said Ledesma.

Besides the participation of the Malaysian government, Archbishop Ledesma proposed to allow religious leaders to also act as mediators.

“They should get some religious leaders and look at the peace process itself, because it’s the religious leaders who can provide the moral and spiritual underpinnings of the peace process,” the prelate said.

MILF told to control its troops amid snag in talks

07/27/2008 | 10:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The government has asked the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to rein in their forces to prevent hostilities in the light of the breakdown in the peace negotiations.

“It is incumbent upon them (MILF leaders), given that, to reign in their people under their control to prevent the outbreak of hostilities," Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr said in an interview in Camp Aguinaldo Sunday.

Teodoro however expressed optimism that the negotiations have just hit a minor snag and that it will prosper after consultations on both sides.

“It was quite close already, but there was some disagreement on one point so I think there are other efforts to review positions on both sides. But we are still confident that the talks will push through after proper consultation on both sides," he said.

Talks with the largest secessionist organization in the country collapsed Saturday when MILF negotiators walked out from the meeting after government negotiators insisted on changing some crucial points in the draft agreement regarding the ancestral domain provision.

Reports said government negotiators wanted to delay the conduct of a plebiscite for the inclusion of more than 700 villages in the expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The draft agreement mentioned a six-month timeframe to hold the plebiscite.

Teodoro said government forces would remain on “active defense" despite the development on the talks.

“Our soldiers have shown admirable restraint already, professionalism in the face of these things because they know the greater objective," he said, adding that the deadlock would not translate into hostilities.

“We should never equate deadlocks in talks with resumptions of hostilities. I think that’s the worst thing that can happen," he said.

Before the breakthrough in the peace talks, MILF officials admitted that the successive attacks of its forces in Central Mindanao were led by some commanders who were disgusted with the progress of the peace negotiations.

Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano said the military has not monitored any unusual development on the ground since the talks broke down.

Incidentally, at around 2:40 p.m. Saturday, MILF rebels burned a number of houses in Aleosan, North Cotabato, and wounding three responding soldiers.

“There has been no abnormal situation. There is no abnormal situation since then. In fact, it was even worse before. We know that in the later part of June, there were a lot of reported hostilities. Now, for several days except for very few isolated incidents, we have not recorded any," Yano said in a separate interview.

On whether the fighting last Saturday was related to the breakdown of the talks, Yano said: “We cannot speculate...We have not really found (that) out in our investigation....We have not received any formal report yet, we will wait for the result of the investigation."

Yano said the Joint Coordinating Committee of the Cessation of Hostilities is presently looking into the incident.

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