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Peace hopes fade in Philippine south

ICC Note:

Hope of peace in Mindanao is beginning to fade, months after failed peace talks brought the anger of Muslim rebels on many Christian communities in the region.


3/16/09 Philippines (BBC) In mid-2008, it looked as if there was at last – after decades of fighting – a chance for Mindanao to find lasting peace.

Eight years of negotiations between the Philippine government and the separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, had resulted in a framework agreement.

In early August, representatives from both sides gathered in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to sign the landmark deal. But the signing never took place.

The document faced fierce opposition at the 11th hour, including from some Christian leaders who challenged its legitimacy.

They complained that the government had failed to discuss the deal adequately with Christian communities in Mindanao – who form a majority on the island – and with the island’s indigenous people, despite the fact both communities would be directly affected.

The prospects for further talks seem bleak. Both sides say that in theory they are ready to resume negotiations.

But the fact the Supreme Court declared the deal unconstitutional casts a shadow over future agreements which are founded on similar principles.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the current President, Gloria Arroyo, now has a limited term of office. Her mandate expires in 2010.

“I don’t see any prospect,” Mr Iqbal told me, “of signing a peace deal under the Arroyo administration.”

There are some international efforts to broker fresh talks and get the peace process back on track.

But in the short term, it seems unlikely that the MILF leadership will be able to convince commanders who are now fighting to stop.

And until the violence ends, the tens of thousands of families who fled their villages, and are now trying to survive without adequate food or shelter, will not be able to go home.

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