Surge in Mindanao kidnappings alarms OIC official

MANILA, Philippines — A high official of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Friday expressed concern that the surge in kidnappings in the southern Philippines would derail the peace process.

Sayed El-Masry, special envoy of the secretary-general of the OIC, said the abduction of three International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC) workers in particular will set back efforts to develop the impoverished region of Mindanao.

At least 10 people are being held by suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf gunmen on the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan. The ICRC volunteers—Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba, Italian Eugenio Vagni, and Swiss Andreas Notter —were abducted last Jan. 15 after checking a jail water sanitation project in Jolo.

“We are viewing this development with grave alarm because all our effort is to have stability in Mindanao, stability for the people to start developing, socially economically and politically. So without the stability, this task is further hindered. So we condemn it in the strongest words and we are worried about the spread of this phenomenon,” said El-Masry.

El-Masry was in Manila for a three-day conference of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Philippine government, the OIC organized to look into the former rebel group’s complaint that the government has not fully complied with its obligations under the Sept. 2, 1996 peace agreement.

El-Masry said it was unfortunate that a small “criminal group” such as the Abu Sayyaf is hindering peace and economic development efforts in the south.

El-Masry said it was reassuring to hear from leaders of the MNLF that their group has no links with the ASG.

Both the MNLF and the ASG operate in Sulu province, and MNLF members have in the past been accused of helping each ASG militants being hunted by government troops.

“ I heard from Nur Misuari, the chairman of the MNLF that he and all the MNLF elements are cooperating with the high officials, the highest level of the government and they are coordinating their efforts in order to release the kidnapped three persons and to prevent the recurrence of such. I’m sure their members, the real members of the MNLF, have nothing to do with this. It is against their objectives,” El-Masry said.

The MNLF used to be the largest Muslim rebel group seeking a separate state in Mindanao until it dropped secessionist demand and settled for limited autonomy under the 1996 peace accord.

Under the accord, hundreds of its members were absorbed into the military and police. However, many of its members held on to their guns and have in some instances staged rebellions.

The MNLF has said that the Philippine government has failed to deliver economic and development assistance and political reforms pledged under the peace accord.

To save the peace agreement, the OIC helped broker at least three meetings to reconcile both the government and MNLF differences over the pact.

The MNLF is seeking amendments to the organic law of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), that would include the establishment of Shari’ah courts and judiciary; the formation of a Special Regional Security Force and the Unified Command for the Autonomous Region in Mindanao; the resolution of Natural Resources and Economic Development issues; setting up of a political system and representation; and education.

These are the same concessions previously offered by the Arroyo government under an expanded homeland agreement to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a breakaway faction of the MNLF and the lone Muslim secessionist movement in Mindanao. However, the agreement with the MILF was scrapped in August 2008 after the Supreme Court declared it illegal and unconstitutional.

In their joint communiqués issued at the end of Friday’s meeting, the Philippine government and MNLF have agreed on the establishment of a legal panel, which will transform these proposals into “legal form.” Members of the panel would consist of legal experts nominated by the Philippine government and the MNLF.

Each party will nominate its representatives no later than March 20 and conclude its work within 30 days.

The report of the joint legal panel will be further discussed during an OIC ministerial meeting in Damascus, Syria on May 23-25.

Also included in the communiqué is the proposal for the creation of a peace and development fund mechanism for Southern Philippines that will be supported by OIC member countries and OIC special bodies. The concept for this plan is in its early stages and officials can not give further details. – GMANews.TV

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Published in: on March 13, 2009 at 8:20 pm  Comments Off on Surge in Mindanao kidnappings alarms OIC official  
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