MALAYSIA, LIBYA TO MEDIATE MILF TALKS  

Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 25, 2003 -- Malaysia and Libya have agreed to mediate peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said yesterday.

President Arroyo and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad agreed yesterday on the possible resumption of the peace talks.

The pledge came during separate meetings the President held with Mahathir and Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Mohammed Shalghem at the 13th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Kuala Lumpur.

"Their most important agenda was to talk about how Kuala Lumpur can help in the peace process with the MILF," Bunye said of the 15-minute bilateral discussion between Mrs. Arroyo and Mahathir.

"Prime Minister Mahathir promised to mediate between our government and the MILF to speed up the peace process," he said, but declined to say whether Malaysia had offered to host negotiations.

Bunye said the President and Mahathir also discussed the welfare of Filipinos in Sabah.

As for Mrs. Arroyo's talk with Shalghem, Bunye said "they talked about the peace process with the MILF, where Libya also promised to work with our government."

Shalghem promised Libyan President Moammar Khadaffi's full support and cooperation in enhancing the peace talks with the MILF.

Mrs. Arroyo was also informed at the NAM meeting about the keen interest expressed by the Khadaffi Foundation in establishing a palm oil plantation in the Liguasan Marsh. The Khadaffi Foundation is headed by The Libyan president's son.

Mrs. Arroyo also spoke with the Prime Minister of Bahrain, Shaikh Kalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, about the welfare of Filipinos in Bahrain and what Bahrain could do to help in the event of another war in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) earlier expressed alarm over the outbreak of hostilities between the government and the MILF in North Cotabato, but Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said the OIC would not misread recent developments in Mindanao.

Ople said the Malaysian government has continued "to lend its good offices" to help forge a peace pact between the MILF and the government.

He also noted the initiatives taken by Malaysia and Indonesia in pushing for and supporting "our bid for observer status in the OIC."

The powerful 54-member OIC, of which Malaysia is a member, which is composed of Islamic nations, has been taking up the problem of conflict in the Southern Philippines since 1994 when the OIC met in the Philippines.

Ople added that the government has resisted attempts to list the MILF as a foreign terrorist organization "because we want to give way to the peace process in full."

He said the matter of initiating peace talks with the MILF is being handled by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Eduardo Ermita and Gonzales.

Ermita, meanwhile, said in a statement that the government is strengthening its drive to continue the peace process with the MILF, "now that a struggle between the military and the MILF stretches to full limit, causing massive civilian relocation."

All reported bombings in North Cotabato following the Pikit offensive that left nearly 200 people dead mostly MILF rebels and Pentagon gang members are part of the effort to destabilize the government.

Ermita also said the Office of Muslim Affairs led by its executive director Adam Musa, is trying to reach out to Muslim leaders to obtain support and assistance for evacuees displaced by the Pikit offensive last week.

Ermita added that an executive order for the protection of children caught in the armed conflict, particularly in Central Mindanao, is being pushed. (By John Unson and Edith Regalado, Star)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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