Posted by: JWP | 12/08/2009

GRP-Moro Islamic Libaration Front & Imperial Conspiracies

Arroyo to light the blue touchpaper?

Morning Star

Monday 07 December 2009 Ken Fuller

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government finally resume peace negotiations on Tuesday with two days of talks in Kuala Lumpur.

In August last year after years of talks brokered by Malaysia the two parties were on the brink of signing an agreement to expand the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The plan was to create a “Bangsamoro juridical entity,” which was to have been granted new powers and rights, some pertaining to mineral wealth.

However, as the signatories assembled in Kuala Lumpur, the Supreme Court issued a restraining order at the 11th hour and later ruled that the document was unconstitutional.

Within days, sections of the MILF occupied villages and clashes with the armed forces spread over the next few months. Hundreds died and 600,000 were displaced.

Anti-imperialist opponents of the planned agreement questioned the US role, which in turn cast doubt on the true motives of the MILF.

In January 2003, frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations with Manila, the late MILF leader Hashim Salamat requested assistance from George W Bush.

That same year, the nominally independent US Institute for Peace was engaged by the State Department to help expedite a peace agreement.

The institute’s Philippine facilitation project oversaw the drafting of the agreement.

Some posit the possibility that the US regards the Philippines as a virtually failed state and, seeing the need for an amenable Muslim regime in the region, it has an interest in an agreement along the lines of that torpedoed last year.

A second theory is that US interest in this territorial dispute is, as in so many others, about oil and gas. Both theories could be right.

A 2002 resource assessment estimated that nine billion barrels of fuel oil equivalent were located in the Philippines and that over half was to be found in the Sulu Sea and off Palawan, parts of which are also claimed by the MILF as the Muslims’ “ancestral homeland.”

It has been estimated that beneath Liguasan Marsh, in the largely Muslim provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindano provinces, there lies natural gas worth $580 billion.

A Bangsamoro juridical entity with total control of all natural resources within its borders could facilitate US participation in its development.

Autonomy, however, would not enable it to offer Washington military bases and thus there are fears that independence is the longer-term goal.

Nationalist opinion has been agitated by the long-term presence of 600 elite US troops in Mindanao.

Although former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld encouraged them to accompany Philippine troops on combat missions, Manila has always insisted that they were there to perform humanitarian tasks and provide Philippine troops with intelligence.

Little has changed since Barack Obama took office and in August this year US Defence Secretary Robert Gates announced that the troops would remain.

Obama’s US diplomats have on occasion behaved like imperial proconsuls, venturing into Mindanao with no apparent sanction from the Manila government. The most recent occasion was in October, when chairman Murad Ebrahim was visited by the charge d’affaires and her team.

It is surprising that the talks are being resumed so soon after the events of November 23, when, fuelled by rivalry in the run-up to next May’s elections, 57 people were massacred in the province of Maguindano.

The MILF was not involved, but as part of its response to the carnage the government has assumed direct control of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, revealing the limits of current “autonomy.”

It is almost certainly the case, moreover, that public opinion would now be even less amenable to an enlargement of the autonomous region than it was last August.

The government says that the path to resumed talks was cleared by agreement on the composition of an “international contact group” to guarantee the results of the negotiating process.

The group is composed of Britain, Turkey and Japan, along with some ostensible NGOs – including the Asia Foundation, formerly a CIA front and still funded by Washington, and the British-based Conciliation Resources, which is funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, several other European governments, the European Commission and various charities.

US pressure may have played a role, however. During her recent visit, Clinton urged President Gloria Arroyo to conclude a peace agreement, saying that in her experience it was far easier to take difficult decisions shortly before leaving office.

In the Mindanao context, that sounded as if she were advising Arroyo to light the blue touchpaper before walking away.

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