Philippine Separatists Agree to Reconcile

Next September is a long way away. Also some members may split off and join Abu Sayyaf who certainly will not negotiate with the government. There are also still NPA (New People's Army) groups in Mindanao so there are unlikely to be bucolic times in Mindanao as yet. However, there could be much less tension and violence. It is interesting that Libya helped broker the deal.

Separatists in Philippines Agree to Reconcile
Published: December 15, 2007
MANILA — Two rival Islamic separatist groups in the Philippines have agreed to reconcile by September, a pledge that has raised hopes here that the insurgency in the south of the country where the separatists have been fighting for self-determination since the 1970s might finally come to an end, officials said Friday.

In a meeting Thursday with Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, leaders of the two separatist groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front, said they should be able to resolve their differences, which date to 1976, when the former group broke away from the latter.

The two groups differed over the boundaries of an autonomous territory for Muslims, and the differences have complicated the search for peace in the southern Philippines region of Mindanao.

Other Muslim countries, like Malaysia, have been involved in recent peace negotiations between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the government. But Libya has played a special role in the dealings with the two Muslim separatist groups.

Libya brokered the 1976 Tripoli agreement between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front. Soon after that agreement, several high-ranking separatist leaders broke away and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Mr. Qaddafi’s three-day visit “signified that the Muslim world is concerned with the problem in Mindanao,” said Abhoud Syed M. Lingga, the executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, a nonprofit institution based in Mindanao that is monitoring the peace effort.

“And any concern from Muslim countries and leaders, whether symbolic or substantive, gives a people desperate for peace a ray of hope,” he said. Although the Moro National Liberation Front signed what was termed a “final peace agreement” with the government in 1996, Islamic separatism remained a problem because the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said that agreement failed to address fundamental issues, like the rights of Muslims to their ancestral domains and natural resources.

There were no details on Friday about how the two groups agreed to resolve their differences. Officials from the groups said a reconciliation was necessary to develop the economy in the areas in Mindanao where most Filipino Muslims live.

“We promised to iron out whatever differences we have had in the past not later than September 2008 and come up with a single road map to develop Muslim communities in the south,” said Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the Islamic Front who attended the meeting, according to Reuters.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front had wanted a larger territory and greater autonomy than what the Moro National Liberation Front had agreed to with the government in 1996.

Filipino officials, peace advocates and leaders of the Organization of the Islamic Conference have long urged the two groups to settle their disputes to make it easier for the Philippine government to deal with the conflict.

The Moro National Liberation Front, as part of its peace settlement with the government in Manila, has been managing a seven-province autonomous region in Muslim Mindanao, but has been criticized for failing to develop the economy there.

More than 120,000 people have died in the decades-old conflict, according to the government.


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