The “Mindanao Peaceweavers” supports the holding of exploratory talks between the Philippine government (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on February 19-20, and hopes that the meeting if successful will lead to the resumption of formal talks. There is public impatience for the resumption of negotiations even if only exploratory, since the last round of exploratory talks was held last September 2003 in Kuala Lumpur. This impatience is also understandable considering that the formal GRP-MILF talks had opened in October 1999, was derailed by the “all-out” war six months later in April 2000, and after the February 2003 war in Buliok, has been moving forward largely through exploratory talks and back-channeling efforts.
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A little barangay in Pagalungan, Maguindanao might be showing the way home for evacuees in the war-torn central Mindanao. Last January 25, the hopes of Kudal residents came alive when some 70 people witnessed the groundbreaking in Sitio Bridge, Kudal of a self-build housing project of the Suwara Kalilintad, the organization formed by the war evacuees last year. Suawara had led the June 24-25, 2003 Bakwit Power highway protests of evacuees from Pagalungan, Pagagawan and Pikit, Cotabato.
In January 18, 2004 the Joint GRP-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) together with the Bantay Ceasefire conducted a field investigation in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The investigation looked into reported violations of the ceasefire agreement as a result of government’s manhunt, which started mid-December 2003, against a kidnap group holding a local businessman.
The clashes between government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) happening in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang, Maguindanao Province since mid-January are dangerous fires that should be doused. Already, many civilians in those towns have started to pack up their belongings including their livestock and preparing for another uncertain life in the evacuation centers.
This field report relates to civil society efforts to bring back the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the negotiating table. Among the obstacles to the resumption of formal peace talks this year is the reported links of the MILF to the terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), as alleged by the government. Another contentious issue is on the pull-out of government troops from Buliok, which the MILF cites as a “precondition” to the resumption of the talks.
The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) is a Philippines-based advocacy institution promoting human security, democratization and people-to-people solidarity.
IID conducts policy advocacy and campaign programs on Burma, Mindanao, Southern Thailand, West Papua, and East Timor.