Gov’t negotiators question MILF’s ‘law-enforcement actions’

Rappler.com
Both panels resume formal exploratory talks in KL

MANILA, Philippines – With the resumption of the formal exploratory talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, February 13, government negotiators expressed hopes they would be able to craft a “mutually viable” peace agreement with the rebel group.

But they have raised concerns over reported rebel activities in the Lanao provinces.

In his opening remarks at the start of the 25th Formal Exploratory Talks with the MILF, government chief negotiatior Marvic Leonen urged the rebel group to pull out its armed members in the villages of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur and instead to coordinate its operations with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG).

“We propose that in this round of talks, we focus once more on the substantive issues and explore common grounds. We acknowledge that the issues that we tackle now are the more difficult ones but we are optimistic that we can find mutually viable solutions,” Leonen said in a statement.

Leonen expressed concern on recent incidents where the MILF reportedly “unilaterally” pursued criminal elements without coordinating its efforts with the AHJAG or the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities  (CCCH).

“We should keep our ground peaceful and avoid provocation that might stir unnecessary violence.  Our mechanisms should constantly be reviewed but even in doing so, we should both abide by it.  We should do so even while we share in the desire to go against criminal elements within our communities,” Leonen said.

According to a report that the government panel gathered, members of the MILF”s 102nd Base Command on Feb. 4, 2012 “have moved and conducted, without coordination through our AHJAG or CCCH mechanisms, actions that appear to be law enforcement movements against cattle rustlers and drug traffickers.”

“This happened in Barangay Mamaan, Piagapo, Lanao del Sur,” Leonen said. “The MILF units have met resistance from some members of the community causing instability and evacuations from that area.”

Leonen also cited another report that on February 5, “a group of about 200 fully armed MILF members under a certain Commander Topsider proceeded to Barangay Mamaan, burned the house of a certain Lanao Ariraya and indiscriminately fired their firearms causing panic among residents in the barangay and causing also their evacuation to neighboring areas.”

Appeal to MILF

“Similar reports have come in from residents of Munai, Poonah Piagapo, and Matungao of Lanao del Norte as well as Piagapo, Lanao del Sur.  Apparently, in the guise of ‘law enforcement,’ citizens are being arrested and processed in a manner causing fear and panic among the residents,” Leonen said.

Leonen appealed to the MILF “to withdraw its armed members from these barangays and coordinate–through our AHJAG–so we could do the right thing in the right way.  We know that this concern will be perused and considered by the MILF negotiating panel.”

He said that while the government has prodded the MILF to help assist in neutralizing lawless elements, under existing agreements, “we urge the MILF not to do so unilaterally. “

“We do have the AHJAG mechanisms that will enable us to work together to interdict these criminals that find sanctuary within various communities.  It is also by working together that we avoid needless panic and instability as we negotiate a final peace agreement,” he said.

In a separate statement, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process quoted MILF panel chair Mohagher Iqbal as saying, in response to Leonen’s remarks, that  “practically all issues are on the table and are clear to all parties. If we cannot settle all these issues soon, there will be more headache.” – Rappler.com

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