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RP stand on ancestral domain leads to talks collapse — MILF

07/27/2008 [ ]

Peace talks between the government and Muslim separatist rebels collapsed after Manila tried to go back on an earlier agreement, rebel spokesmen yesterday said.

The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front charged that government efforts to back down on a draft agreement, recognizing the MILF’s “ancestral domain” in southern Philippines had led to the breakdown, preventing the resumption of formal negotiations.

Chief MILF negotiator Mohaqer Iqbal said “the talks collapsed because the government was undoing settled issues on ancestral domain.”

“We have conceded much and nothing in return from the government,” he noted, adding “under these circumstances, the MILF sees illogical and unreasonable to continue with the talks.”

This forced the cancellation of a meeting to resume formal talks on Aug. 5, Iqbal said in a statement issued from Kuala Lumpur, where informal negotiations were being held.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu, for his part, said “this is the choice of the government, to go back to the issue of ancestral domain.”

The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga Peninsula, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines.

“They should consider the consequences of their actions,” he stressed, warning that the MILF leadership could not always control hardliners among the guerrillas.

Formal peace talks with the 12,000-member guerrilla group which signed a ceasefire with Manila in 2003, have stalled for months due to disagreements over what authority the MILF would exercise over areas it claims as its

ancestral homeland.

However about a week ago, government and MILF representatives reached a deal on the controversial “ancestral domain” issue that both sides said would lead to a resumption of formal negotiations.

The nearly four decades-old rebellion has left thousands dead and left Mindanao, the southern third of the country, mired in poverty.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, however, appeared to suggest that the talks had not broken down.

“The peace process is a continuing effort. In the latest talks in Kuala Lumpur over the last few days to finalize the draft agreement, there remain some differences. Although the meeting did not immediately bring about progress in the ancestral domain issue, I am sure that the parties will continue to look for ways to hurdle the difficulties and move the process forward,” he said in a statement.

One of the issues is ancestral domain, he added without being specific.

“I am sure, however, that all the parties involved in the talks will work for ways to hurdle the difficulties and move the process forward.”

The government has offered a federal-style state for the Muslims, which make up a large minority in the country. They are largely based in Mindanao which they consider their ancestral home.

Despite the ceasefire, sporadic clashes between MILF and government forces still take place.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, in a statement, assured the public that the latest development “does not necessarily equate to escalation of hostilities.”



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