MILF READY FOR PEACE TALKS?  

Manila, Feb. 18, 2003 (Malaya) -- Malacaņang yesterday said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is contemplating on going back to the negotiating table after losing the Buliok complex, a major MILF camp.

Eduardo Ermita, presidential adviser on the peace process, said he received word from the field that the MILF is "considering" a meeting with government negotiators at the level of the cease-fire committee or the coordinating committee for the cessation of hostilities.

Ermita said the meeting "could very well lead to ... the resumption of the talks."

He said a text message was received from a member of the MILF Central Committee that they're willing to pursue the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur.

He said Norberto Gonzales, presidential adviser on special concerns and a backdoor negotiator to the MILF, is already in Kuala Lumpur and has reported that "the Malaysians would be ready to help out in bringing the two parties together as a result of the encounter in Mindanao."

Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, told a government radio that the MILF has not abandoned the peace negotiations and it is waiting for the results of mediation talks between the government and Malaysia.

"On our end, hindi namin pinuputol ang peace talks. Wala kaming declaration as far as the leadership is concerned ... Hindi rin namin sinu-suspend ang negotiations at hinihintay lang namin as far as the MILF is concerned kung ano ang mapag-uusapan ng gobyerno at mediating country na Malaysia," he said.

The Malaysian government has been mediating in the peace talks by allowing the formal talks to be held there.

On Aug. 7, 2001, the MILF and Philippine government panels signed and presented the guidelines governing a cease-fire to President Arroyo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad .

Gen. Dionisio Santiago, AFP chief, said the situation in Buliok complex which straddles the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao has normalized.

He said the military is now moving to the second phase which is helping the Department of Social Welfare and Development see to the needs of the evacuees.

Jesus Dureza, presidential assistant on Mindanao, said the government is hoping that the evacuees could be persuaded to return to their homes in the next few days.

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said 12,000 families or 60,000 persons have been displaced by the operations in Buliok complex.

She said the biggest number is in Pikit town in North Cotabato where 39,000 persons or 6,500 families were staying in 14 evacuation centers. (By REGINA BENGCO, with Al Jacinto)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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