Saturday, December 25, 2010

Mediating Philippines Mindanao

IT comes as no surprise that the armed men who abducted two Malaysians from a seaweed farm in Sabah and whisked them away in a speedboat to the Philippines in February have been linked to the Abu Sayyaf as this militant group has been tied to dozens of kidnappings. Indeed, it is self-styled freedom fighters like them who have been behind most of the kidnappings in Mindanao. Though foreigners as well as locals have been held for ransom, most of the abductions have taken place in southern Philippines. But as this kidnapping in Malaysian territory and the high-profile case at Sipadan a decade ago show, this roving band of bandits is not averse to making raids across the border. But as serious a threat as cross-border hostage-taking are to the personal safety of our citizens and visitors, what is obviously a greater national concern is the crossing of Filipinos seeking refuge from turmoil and trouble.

However, though signing a deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front appears to figure in Manila's priorities, there seems to be doubt over Kuala Lumpur's ability to continue as an honest broker because of the perceived bias of the Malaysian facilitator. To be sure, as it is the four decades of armed conflict in the southern Philippines that has crippled the economy, bred the assorted bands of bandits, and forced thousands to flee to Sabah, it is in Malaysia's interest to see peace in Mindanao. This is why the country has been willing to serve as peace monitors and as mediators between the government of the Philippines and the seekers of a Bangsamoro homeland.

Of course, it has not been smooth sailing for Malaysia as host of the peace talks. It took years of shuttling, acting as go-between and helping to bridge the differences to get an accord on ancestral domain, only to see all the work undone when it was thrown out by the courts in Manila two years ago. While it is understandable to insist that a mediator does not take sides in a conflict, it is, however, hard to understand why the credentials of someone who has been hitherto trusted and accepted by all parties has now been questioned. In any event, whatever the case may be, it is hoped that the facilitation issue is resolved amicably and quickly so that the stalled talks can be revived. Forty years of conflict and violence have been more than long enough to radicalise more than one generation. The imperative now is to find a peaceful solution in Mindanao. New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

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