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Moro muslims say still interested in peace but no trust in govt

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Moro Muslims said MILF was still interested in seeking a peaceful solution, but was not hopeful of striking any deal with the present government.

Moro Muslims said Thursday they do not trust the Philippines government to reopen stalled peace talks and are seeking international intervention to resolve the issue.

Mohaqher Iqbal, the chief negotiator, said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was still interested in seeking a peaceful solution, but was not hopeful of striking any deal with the present government.

"We did not start this problem," Iqbal told Reuters. "We believe it would be very difficult to restart the talks because the government has dissolved its panel and the court has struck down the ancestral domain agreement as unconstitutional."

He was referring to the government’s negotiating peace panel and the fact that the Philippines’ high court had halted the signing of an agreement between the government and the MILF that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous region, giving it wider political, social and economic powers.

Iqbal said the leadership had lost its trust in the government’s ability to commit to any political deal and to carry it out.

Speaking at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo insisted her government remained committed to the peace process despite escalating killings in the south.

Humanitarian problem

On Thursday, soldiers killed at least 15 Muslim fighters in fresh fighting on Mindanao, an army spokesman said, adding the two sides traded mortar fire for nearly three hours.

Almost 300 people have been killed in nearly three months of fighting between security forces and renegades from the MILF. The fighting has displaced more than 650,000 people.

Aid workers expressed concerned about the health of those displaced by armed clashes and aerial bombardments.

"Because large numbers of displaced people are crowded together, they are vulnerable to diarrhoea and respiratory infection," said Robert Paterson, an International Committee of the Red Cross medical delegate in the Philippines.

There have already been three deaths due to diarrhoea in the affected region, he said in a statement released in Geneva.

OIC call

Yesterday, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, expressed his deep concern about the increasing deterioration of the situation in the southern Philippines due to continued military operations, severely affecting civilians. The uninterrupted military operations have resulted in the displacement of more than half a million civilians who live in shelters in dire conditions.

Ihsanoglu warned that this situation empowers undisciplined elements who seek to abort the peace process and fuel extremist feelings.

He urged the government of the Philippines and President Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to rapidly return to the negotiating table in order to work out creative solutions matching agreements with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the requirements of the Supreme Constitutional Court, while continuing to work in the same positive spirit that led to the accomplishments made so far through negotiations and build upon these achievements in a bid to reach the just and durable peace desired by all

The Secretary General called upon the leadership of the MILF to work with the government of the Philippines to save the peace process from sliding into further deterioration and resume negotiations. He expressed his confidence that the leaderships of the negotiating parties have a sense of wisdom and responsibility to work together in order to find a proper way out of this crisis which threatens to thwart the peace process.

As for the special efforts slated to alleviate the suffering of displaced persons, Ihsanoglu emphasized that he would deploy efforts to mobilize resources from the OIC affiliated institutions and organs to alleviate the suffering of the displaced population.

The Philippines, an archipelagic country located in the western Pacific Ocean, has a population of 90 million people. The population of Muslims is about 12 million. Between the years 1450 and 1515, two Islamic principalities were founded on the islands of Sulu and Mindanao. Islam came to the Philippines in the 13th century 200 years before Christianity did.



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