Govt blocking intl aid to MILF – Iqbal

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: As negotiators resumed talks in Malaysia, another wrinkle that needs ironing emerged after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) accused the government of blocking foreign development aid to the group from various international organizations and countries supporting the peace process in Mindanao.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator, expressed grave concern over how the Aquino government is trying to exert influence in an effort to slow down the flow of international support to the rebel group which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.

“We express our grave concern over the reported government’s changing policy on our relations with development partners and the GPH (government of the Philippines) instruction to these development partners to slow in their engagements with the MILF,” Iqbal said during Monday opening of the three-day peace negotiations in Kuala Lumpur.

“Given the short period of the transitions for the MILF and the continuing delay in the completion and signing of a comprehensive peace agreement, it becomes even more urgent that the MILF receives technical assistance, capacity development, development planning and resource mobilization to insure that when it takes the reign of government it is able to deliver and meet the expectations of the Bangsamoro people. It is our firm conviction that a strong MILF is good for the peace-making in Mindanao, not otherwise,” he added.

Iqbal said the long delay in the resumption of the peace talks have generated so much negative speculations and restlessness among some MILF members. “It is not good to hear these, but they were all expressed loud and clear. To many, the impression is that there is an impasse of the peace talks,” he said.

The MILF has earlier rejected a government draft on wealth-sharing in the proposed Muslim homeland, saying it was not what the rebel group is expecting.

Iqbal said the situation eased after the Malaysian facilitator Tenkgu Dato AB Ghafar Tengku Mohamed arrived in Manila last month to talk to key government officials and MILF leaders to hasten the peace process.

MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim also wrote a letter to President Benigno Aquino 3rd and reiterated his unwavering commitment to resolve the conflict peacefully. But Murad also informed Aquino of the growing frustration of the people and some members of the MILF as a result of the delayed talks.

Iqbal said the President answered Murad’s letter, but he did not elaborate.

He said the peace talks are now in a critical stage and warned that “there are many spoilers who are waiting in ambush.”

“I know that the road ahead of the current peace talks is still full of humps and bumps. But this is no reason to cause the failure of these talks. Sincere and committed partners in peace process will always find creative formula to get through any differences. If they don’t find one, this means one of the parties or both of them change policy from solving the conflict to not solving it,” Iqbal said.

Malacañang also on Tuesday said the peace negotiations are going well.

The government and the MILF resumed formal talks in Malaysia on Monday to continue discussions on the three remaining annexes of the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro.

“The different TWGs [ technical working groups] will be convening and they will start to thresh out issues that are involved in the last three annexes,” Valte said, noting that the government panel itself will give an update after the talks have been concluded.

Both parties are hoping that they can sign the annex on wealth-sharing in this round of talks.

A Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT) headed by former European Union ambassador to the Philippines and now ambassador to Cambodia Alistair McDonald joined the peace panels. Members of the panel are Dr. Steven Rood, representing The Asia Foundation; Omar Kesmen, representing the Turkish The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief; lawyer Zainuddin Malang, representing the Mindanao-based Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, and Karen Tanada, representing the Manila-based Gaston Ortigas Peace Foundation.

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