Moros agree to clear landmines
Manila, Philippines, 24 April 2010 (Manila Standard) -The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has agreed to work with the Philippine government in clearing landmines and unexploded bombs left by decades of conflict in Mindanao.
Both side arrived at this consensus during preliminary discussions on the issue, said Mohaqher Iqbal, chief negotiator of the Moro group after two days of talks with the Philippine government in Kuala Lumpur. This would clear the way for 100,000 displaced people to return home, Iqbal told the Standard in a telephone interview. Europe-based Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, a non-government organization, has pledged to shoulder the cost of clearing operations. The administration and the Moro rebels are trying to hammer out an interim peace pact before President Arroyo's term ends on June 30. The interim deal will serve as basis for negotiations for a lasting pact between the Moro rebels and the winner of the May 10 presidential election. The government had destroyed its stockpile of anti-personnel land mines before it signed a mine-ban treaty in 2000, but said it would conduct mine-clearing operations. "Many of the displaced families are eager to return home and rebuild their lives, but some are still worried over their safety due to the unresolved conflict and potential dangers from these explosives," Iqbal said. Iqbal said there was an unknown number of mines, unexploded devices and artillery rounds left in conflict areas, and dozens of people had been killed or wounded by these explosives since late 2008. Soliman Santos of the Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines said it would take two years to clear the mines and unexploded ordnance such as bombs, artillery and mortar shells. "People in the south are aware of the dangers posed by these explosives and this could be among the reasons why they are not returning to their homes," he said. Nearly 750,000 people were displaced when the conflict flared up after a proposed deal on the creation of a Muslim homeland in Mindanao was blocked by the Supreme Court in August 2008. In July 2009, a truce was signed that saw negotiations reopened and Japan, Turkey and Britain invited to observe negotiations brokered by Malaysia. Iqbal said it was already next to impossible to forge a comprehensive peace pact within the Arroyo administration. "But an interim agreement will preserve the gains of the peace process," he said.
Von: (c) 2010, Manila Standard, All Rights Reserved, 24 April 2010