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Peace Talks Resume for Southern Philippines Against Backdrop of Recent Massacre

December 16, 2009

By Steven Rood

Early this month marked the official beginning of a hopeful end to decades of armed conflict between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in southern Philippines. The announcement in November of the formation of the International Contact Group (ICG) made up of select countries and four international NGOs, including The Asia Foundation, to support negotiations between the two sides marked a huge step forward in the region’s history. On December 8-9, all parties gathered in Kuala Lumpur for the first stage of renewed peace talks.

However, events prior to the talks seemed to underscore the urgent need to resolve the conflict: Just days before the meeting in Malaysia, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared martial law in Maguindanao in response to the massacre of nearly 60 people there on November 23. While this violence was connected to local electoral politics, and had nothing to do with issues between the MILF and the government, the state of martial law would have posed difficulties for any mechanisms instituted for maintaining a cessation of hostilities between the two sides. In the event, martial law was lifted on December 12.

Much is at stake for the renewed peace talks to succeed. After the peace process collapsed in 2008, over 600,000 civilians were displaced, with at least 300 dead.

The ICG will continue to provide crucial support for the peace process as negotiations move forward. As stated in the ICG’s Framework Agreement, the group will network with stakeholders in the negotiation, coordinate with the Facilitator (Malaysia) to provide research input, and give feedback and advice for the peace process.

Both sides are hopeful that a final solution to the conflict can be reached before President Arroyo steps down in June. In a statement to Reuters, Mohagher Iqbal, MILF’s chief negotiator, remarked that “in three days, we can reach a final peace deal if the government is really sincere in ending the violence in the south and bring economic development.”

Read more about The Asia Foundation’s work in the Philippines.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative for the Philippines and Pacific Island Nations. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions

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