MILF PROBLEM: U.S. OFFERS TO MEDIATE

Manila, April 26, 2003 -- Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople said 
yesterday the United States has offered to find a solution to the MILF 
problem by holding talks with the secessionist group if "a window of 
opportunity" is opened.

Ople said he sees no hindrance should the US decide to mediate.

He said US offer was relayed by Mathew Daley, East Asia deputy assistant 
secretary of state who called on him.

He said Daley explained that the US wanted to develop Mindanao, 
particularly Central Mindanao, by putting up jobs and infrastructure projects.

"The US understands that the root cause of the rebel activities is poverty. 
Once people have jobs and the economy begins to move such activities would 
finally cease," Ople said.

Ople said the US would want to improve the AFP's anti-terrorism campaign by 
sending in more advisers on tactical operations.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said there is nothing wrong in the US offer to 
broker the peace talks.

"They (US) have done this in the peace talks between the Palestinian 
Liberation Organization and the Israeli government," he said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the Lanao attack on Thursday should 
not affect the ongoing peace negotiations.

"I would not support any suspension of the negotiations simply because of 
this incident. Certainly it is a cause of concern, but not serious enough 
to cause a suspension of the peace process," he said.

Sen. Rodolfo Biazon said the Lanao attack should compel the President to 
seriously reconsider her decision to send a humanitarian mission to Iraq.

He said is it "grossly immoral for President Arroyo to prioritize the 
concerns of Iraq by sending our troops there and even scrounging our 
national coffers, sacrificing the needs of our brothers in Mindanao because 
we cannot even stop the MILF from its daily killing barrage."

"Why are we so worried about Iraq when here in our own country, the people 
in Mindanao are crying for attention?," he said.

President Arroyo said the latest MILF attack is a travesty of the peace 
process.

"It shall be met with firm counterforce, active defense of the affected 
communities and by safeguarding civilians caught in the crossfire. The 
perpetrators are terribly mistaken if they think they can obtain 
concessions in the peace talks by this dastardly act," she said.

But Arroyo stressed that these atrocities would not distract the government 
from its main task of "peace and development" in Mindanao.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes deplored the Lanao attack.

"It is most unfortunate that the government is trying to push for peace 
talks and then we have this attack in Lanao del Norte," he said.

Reyes, however, said that despite the attack the government will still 
pursue talks with the MILF.

AFP chief Gen. Narciso Abaya said the military remains supportive of the 
peace negotiations "but we are also on active defense posture which means 
that we can do preemptive strikes and at the same time conduct pursuit 
operations." (Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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