Philippine government reaches agreement with MILF on evacuees' return

19:49, April 22, 2010      

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The Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed to work swiftly for the return of hundreds of civilians displaced by the fighting between government troops and rebels in conflict- affected areas in the southern province of Mindanao, according to a Foreign Ministry statement issued in Manila Thursday.

At the conclusion of its 18th exploratory talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, both parties urged the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) to ensure the safety and security of returning evacuees by accompanying them to their respective areas of origin.

In a joint statement, the government and the MILF said the CCCH would work closely with local government units concerned, the International Monitoring Team (lMT), and other concerned agencies. They also called on other civil society groups and non- governmental organizations to assist.

More than 100,000 people remain homeless as a result of armed conflict since 2008. Most of them live in dire conditions in government evacuation centers, at relocation sites or with host families.

The Malaysian-brokered peace talks collapsed in August 2008 after the Philippine government and the MILF failed to sign the controversial Memorandum of Understanding on Ancestral Domain (MOU- AD), prompting two MILF commanders and their men to launch deadly attacks on mostly Christian communities in Mindanao.

The MOU-AD's signing would have established a Bansamoro Juridical Entity as the governing body in Bangsamoro homeland, empowered to set up its own courts, security, trade, education, elections as well as the right to explore and develop natural resources in such territory.

Despite the setback, the government and MILF negotiating panels continued their back-channelling efforts to revive the talks. Formal negotiations resumed in December 2009.

The MILF, which the Philippine military says has 11,000 fighters, is the largest group battling for self-rule in Mindanao .

A final peace agreement is expected to end the protracted war in Mindanao that has claimed at least 120,000 lives, brought massive destruction to property, and crippled the region's economy.

Since the resumption of talks, the government and the MILF have steadily strengthened the peace process through effectively suspending hostilities, helping return over 500,000 displaced persons, and introducing additional international and local bodies to bolster the talks.

Source: Xinhua


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