Give peace a chance, say Philippine and rebel negotiators

Give peace a chance, say Philippine and rebel negotiators
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Give peace a chance, say Philippine and rebel negotiators
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Updated 01 February 2015

Give peace a chance, say Philippine and rebel negotiators

Give peace a chance, say Philippine and rebel negotiators

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Philippine government and Muslim rebel negotiators issued a joint plea Saturday for the country to stick to a historic peace accord that is now in peril after a deadly clash spurred calls for retribution against the guerrillas.
Both sides told a press briefing in Kuala Lumpur that two days of talks in Malaysia on disarming the rebels had made progress, and they vowed not to waver in implementing an accord on the voluntary surrender of weapons.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has waged a decades-long bloody insurgency in the Muslim southern Philippines, but an accord signed last year has raised hopes of a lasting peace.
Chief government negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer warned of dire consequences if the process were allowed to crumble.
“The other alternative is simply unthinkable,” she said.
“It will bring chaos and bring about the rise of other groups (and) even more extremists with very radical ideologies.”
The talks in Malaysia marked the first formal sit-down between the two sides since a botched Philippine police raid on the southern island of Mindanao last Sunday.
The operation targeted a wanted terrorism suspect but resulted in 44 police commandos being killed in clashes with the MILF and a smaller rebel faction.
The rebels’ chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal also said the MILF was fully committed to the peace process.
The MILF signed a protocol agreement on Thursday for disarmament, and both parties said they would go ahead with the symbolic handover next month of 75 high-powered guerrilla firearms.
They also vowed to strengthen existing cease-fire mechanisms to avoid future clashes.
But President Benigno Aquino, who must convince Congress to approve the deal, is under mounting pressure to strike back at the rebels.
“In the next few days we know there will be challenges before us,” Coronel-Ferrer said.
She said the government would engage with Philippine lawmakers to keep the process on track.
“That is our message. Please stay the course with us,” she said.
The MILF and various other Muslim rebels have battled since the 1970s for independence or autonomy.
The peace agreement signed last year would create a southern autonomous region for the Philippines’ Muslim minority with locally elected leaders by mid-2016.
The conflict has condemned millions of people across Mindanao to brutal poverty and created fertile conditions for Islamic extremism, with the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and other hard-line militants making remote areas their strongholds.

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Civilians killed in anti-terror raid
An eight-year-old girl and three men — one with his hands bound — were among those killed in a botched anti-terror police operation in the Philippines last weekend, a local official said Saturday.
Mamasapano town mayor Benzar Ampatuan said residents had told him police tied up the man to stop him tipping off their targets ahead of the pre-dawn raid, in which 44 commandos died in one of the force’s bloodiest days in recent years.
A local farmer’s daughter and two other men were also found dead in their homes after the fighting, Ampatuan said, the first report of civilian casualties in the bloodbath.
“Their wives said they were hit in the crossfire,” he told AFP, adding that five other residents of the corn-farming region were also wounded.
The Philippines on Friday held a national day of mourning for the dead police officers, who were killed as they hunted the man blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings in Indonesia, in which 202 people died.
Nearly 400 members of the elite police unit were sent to a village near the town of Mamasapano on January 25 to arrest Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said 11 of its fighters were killed and 15 wounded in the gunfight that ensued. A second rebel force, the MILF splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has not disclosed whether it suffered any casualties.
Filipino officials said Zulkifli was killed by the raiders, a claim that has yet to be independently confirmed. A second target, Filipino militant Abdul Basit Usman, escaped.
The government has faced calls for retribution after at least one police survivor alleged some of the policemen were killed after they surrendered and their corpses were desecrated.
Despite the bloodbath, both the Philippine government and the MILF pledged at the end of the Kuala Lumpur talks on Saturday to pursue their 2014 agreement.
The process calls on parliament to pass a law giving minority Muslims self-rule over several provinces and for the 10,000-member MILF to disarm gradually.
The accord aims to end decades of armed conflict that had claimed 120,000 lives and kept the Catholic nation’s Muslim south in abject poverty and lawlessness.