Philippine gov't, MILF sign pact to protect civilians

14:29, October 28, 2009      

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Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has signed in Kuala Lumpur a new document ensuring the protection of civilians in armed conflict areas in Mindanao, giving bright hope for the reopening of the stalled peace talks.

Ambassador Rafael Seguis, chairman of the government peace panel, said both parties signed on Tuesday the Agreement on the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team(ACPC-IMT).

Seguis signed the document on behalf of the Philippine government while Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace panel, signed for the MILF.

"This is good news," said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Anabelle Abaya, noting that the signing of the agreement can lead to the resumption of the formal peace talks.

The signing of the ACPC-IMT is among the three confidence building measures identified by both parties as a precondition to the peace talks. The two other measures are the suspension of military operations and suspension of military activities; and the formation of the International Contact Group. Both these measures have been implemented.

Under the ACPC-IMT, both parties agreed to "reconfirm their obligations under humanitarian law and human rights law to take constant care to protect the civilian population and civilian properties against the dangers arising in armed conflict situations."

Under this context, the two parties have also agreed to commit themselves to refrain from intentionally targeting or attacking non-combatants, prevent suffering of the civilian population and avoid acts that would cause collateral damage to civilians.

Both sides have also agreed to refrain from targeting or intentionally attacking civilian properties or facilities such as schools, hospitals, religious premises, health and food distribution centers, or relief operations, or objects or facilities indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and of a civilian nature.

Under the agreement, both parties also committed to take all necessary actions to facilitate the provision of relief supplies to affected communities; take all precautions feasible to avoid incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and danger to civilian objects; and ensure that all protective and relief actions shall be undertaken in a purely nondiscriminatory basis covering all affected communities.

To effect the above objectives, the two sides also agreed to issue or re-issue orders to their respective military units or security forces (including paramilitaries, associated militias, and police units) to conduct their operations consistent with their obligations and commitments.

The two parties also agreed to expand the mandate of the IMT, the Malaysia-led peacekeeping contingent, to include civilian protection.

"The IMT shall monitor, verify and report noncompliance by the Parties to their basic undertaking to protect civilians and civilian communities," the agreement said.

"Should the IMT cease to operate, the civilian protection component shall remain in place and continue to perform such functions," it added.

The IMT's activities were put on hold after Malaysia withdrew its peacekeepers last year after peace talks between the government and the MILF collapsed. The IMT has been credited for considerably reducing the number of clashes involving MILF guerrillas and government troops in Mindanao. Other members include Japan, Brunei and Libya.

In the agreement, the Philippine government and the MILF agreed to designate humanitarian organizations and nongovernmental organizations, both international and national, with proven track record for impartiality, neutrality and independence, to carry out the civilian protection functions.

The peace talks collapsed in August last year following the aborted signing of the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) which was declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. This spurred three renegade MILF commanders of the MILF to attack several areas in Central Mindanao, resulting in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Central Mindanao residents caught in the conflict.

A ceasefire was enforced in August. Despite the off-and-on skirmishes, both the government and the MILF have been looking for ways to revive the stalled peace negotiations.

Source: Xinhua
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