MNLF calls for mediator; Congress makes offer-A A +A
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Moro rebels holed up in villages here with some civilians as “hostages” are demanding international mediation, but a top official said Congress can be a third-party venue for the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to come to a peace agreement.
Fresh rounds of fire broke out anew Wednesday between the government troops and the rebels, who are loyal to MNLF founding leader Nur Misuari. The standoff began Monday when the troops blocked the rebels from marching into the City Hall where they plan to hoist their flag to declare independence.
At least nine people have been killed since Monday.
On Wednesday, City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the rebels were demanding international mediation, adding that a former governor from the rebels' stronghold of Sulu province tried to talk to the gunmen Tuesday, but "they refuse to listen to anybody locally."
"They say that it's an international problem, and no less than the international community, the UN, should come in," Salazar said in a television interview. Shots rang out as she spoke from the City Hall.
But House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Wednesday that the Philippine Congress can stand as mediator.
"Currently, peace talks are taking place with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), as the government is still very determined to achieve a just and lasting peace in Mindanao. Whatever needs to be discussed with the MNLF, on the other hand, can be brought to a negotiating table and Congress can be the third-party venue for the Executive and the MNLF to come to terms for our nation," he said in a statement.
Climaco: Efforts to negotiate with the hostage-takers, who belong to the Misuari faction are ongoing. We call on the OPAPP to address demands
— zambocitygovt (@zambocitygovt) September 11, 2013
Climaco: We call on the hostage-takers to please release the hostages as our priority is the safety & protection of Zamboangueno community.
— zambocitygovt (@zambocitygovt) September 11, 2013
"There is no need for an international body to mediate on the matter but sincerity and calm from all parties involved," he added.
Belmonte said the House of Representatives condemns the "needless violence" taking place in Mindanao initiated by the MNLF.
"Violence has never been a solution to what the MNLF admitted is a political problem. There is no need for casualties and displace thousands of our people and disrupt their lives in an ironic fight with peace as supposedly the end product," the House leader said.
There were no immediate reports of anyone hurt in Wednesday's sporadic trading of fire.
The MNLF rebel group signed a peace accord brokered by a committee of the Organization of the Islamic Conference with the government in 1996, but hundreds of its fighters held on to their arms and have recently accused officials of reneging on a promise to develop an autonomous region for minority Muslims in the southern Mindanao region. They also felt left out after a breakaway faction engaged in successful peace talks with the government brokered by Malaysia.
Last month, the MNLF issued new threats to secede by establishing its own republic.
However, its leader, Nur Misuari, has not appeared in public or issued any statement since about 200 of his followers barged into Zamboanga City's coast early Monday and clashed with soldiers and police.
President Benigno Aquino III said the top priority was the safety of the civilians. He sent top Cabinet officials and his military chief of staff to oversee the security crisis in this city.
Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said a crisis committee led by Mayor Salazar was ready to negotiate with the rebels for the release of the civilians. He said some officials had opened talks with the rebels "at different levels," including a commander loyal to Misuari, but added there had been no breakthrough.
The crisis comes as a rival rebel group, the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has made substantial progress toward a new autonomy deal for Muslims in peace talks with the government.
The latest round of those talks resumed Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's main city.
Presidential adviser Teresita Deles, who oversees the talks with the MILF, condemned the actions by Misuari's group, challenging claims by some of Misuari's followers that they planned only to stage a peaceful protest.
She said in a statement Tuesday that “the Philippine government stands firm in its quest for peaceful solutions to the conflict in Mindanao through inclusive dialogue and formal peace negotiations.”
The statement posted at the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process website disproves the claim of Misuari-led MNLF group.
"The group's willful intent to misunderstand and misrepresent the real status of the peace process was very clear. We call on Chairman Misuari to rein in his followers, and listen to the clamor of the Bangsamoro people for the advancement of a comprehensive peace agreement and the implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement, to which the Philippine government remains committed to achieve just and lasting peace in Mindanao," it said.
"We seek the people's support and prayers as our security forces and local governments work together to restore peace and order in Zamboanga City," the statement added.
Misuari declared independence with his supporters in Sulu last month. The declaration of independence supposedly covers Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and North Borneo or Sabah, which is controlled by Malaysia. (AP/With Kathrina Alvarez/Sunnex)