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PEACE TALKS - Now Is the Time to Move Ahead

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The peace process does not stand alone.  It is the key part of a complicated set of programs and actions designed to ultimately bring peace and prosperity to Mindanao.  

One such program is the government's fight against terrorism. Unless terrorism is eradicated, the peace process alone cannot succeed.  The terrorist problem in recent years has been mainly attributed to the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), with instruction, guidance and training -- especially in bomb-making -- provided by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian version of al-Qaeda. Also involved is the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a small group of radical Muslims who are converts from Christianity.

Government forces are currently engaged in an all-out campaign against Abu Sayyaf that also affects the few JI elements being sheltered by ASG.  Attrition among the top ASG ranks has been very high, and all ASG members and their wards, the JI operatives, are quite literally on the run.

With its anti-terrorist arsenal now complete and an intense campaign against ASG fully underway, the government can again turn its attention to the peace process.  The key issue remaining on the agenda is determining how much land and how many villages should fall within some form of autonomous territory under MILF control.

All the key parties involved -- the government, MILF and  Malaysia -- say they are eager to move forward with the talks.

In the meantime, several mechanisms are already functioning under the peace process to ensure that hostilities do not erupt between the government and MILF.  The Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) has been instrumental in resolving several heated situations that could certainly have escalated into hostilities.  The CCCH is aided by the International Monitoring Team, composed of experts from several countries stationed in conflict areas with the mission of defusing any explosive situations.

The mission of the monitoring team is to prevent clashes between MILF and government troops.  Structures are also in place to rush economic aid into the conflicted areas of Mindanao, once peace is established.  The World Bank has a Mindanao Trust Fund to which several major countries and the European Union have contributed. Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States have all instituted major aid programs that extend over several years.  Most of these are pending, however, awaiting a successful peace process outcome.

The peace process is obviously not merely a set of negotiations that will lead to a cessation of hostilities.  The peace process is a complex of programs and actions -- local, national and international -- designed to integrate at last the Muslim areas of the south into the Philippine nation.  The prospect of serious national and international aid and investment in the region is essential to these programs.  Too much has been accomplished in setting all these pieces in place to let narrow-minded politics or minor outbreaks of hostilities get in the way.  Both the government and MILF want to proceed with the peace process.  Let them do so without further delay.

By Menardo Wenceslao




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