Hope of Peace in Philippine Island of Mindanao

Exploratory Peace Discussions Were Positive

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MANILA, Philippines, APRIL 4, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Archbishop Orlando Quevedo has hopes of peace because of a government and rebel initiative to halt hostilities and return to peace talks in Mindanao.

This commitment was reflected in a joint document presented this week in Manila, the Misna missionary agency reported.

«We hope that the search for peace in Mindanao will once again begin seriously and proceed perseveringly, unhampered by mutual distrust and discrimination,» said Archbishop Quevedo, who is also president of the Philippine bishops’ conference.

The agreement — made after exploratory discussions held March 27-28 in Malaysia — is the first step toward renewed talks on the application of a 2001 peace treaty in Tripoli.

Both the government and the rebels have agreed on the need to cease hostilities and initiate a plan to facilitate the return of refugees, who fled because of the recent return to violence in the southern Philippines.

A commission of Malaysian and Libyan negotiators helped with the cease-fire, which has not been formally announced.

The government delegation and Moorish Front of Islamic Liberation (MILF) representatives will meet again to define the application of the guidelines drafted last May.

Included in the Tripoli agreement is cooperation among the MILF, the Philippine armed forces and the national police to combat the criminal gangs that devastate Mindanao and that the rebels are accused of protecting.

The Bangsamor Development Agency, which supervises economic and social development projects for Mindanao, will also accept MILF proposals on the needs of the population and the management of the island’s resources.

Also to be addressed is the delicate part of the agreement: the disarmament of the rebels and withdrawal of the military forces. Neither of the two sides has agreed to withdraw from positions conquered.

News of the agreement may not have reached the rebels, as violence continues. Army sources said that on March 31, some 80 MILF militiamen attacked a residential area near the city of Midsayap, in the northern region of Cotabato, wounding 12 civilians and capturing six Christian peasants.

Other civilians were wounded last Saturday in MILF grenade attacks against the inhabitants of Columbio and Mland.

Archbishop Quevedo said the hypothesis of the presence of a third force in Mindanao cannot be dismissed.

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