Manila, July 31, 2003 By Marichu Villanueva (Star) United States President George W. Bush wants to see peace in Mindanao — personally.

President Arroyo yesterday said Bush wants to witness the signing of a peace pact between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) during his state visit to Manila.

While the President set no date for the inking of such a peace pact, Bush is expected to arrive in Manila for his state visit in October, en route to the Asia-Pacific Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.

The President announced this during yesterday’s Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting with key leaders of Congress at which the common legislative agenda for the remaining 11 months of the Arroyo administration was discussed.

"President Arroyo announced during the LEDAC that (Bush) has expressed his desire to witness the signing of a formal peace agreement between the government of the Republic of the Philippines or GRP and the MILF," the LEDAC joint statement said.

"The President said this will depend on the Malaysian government, it being the host of the formal peace talks," the statement said. "Malaysia, on the other hand, has approved the supportive role being played by the US in the talks."

The President received a call from Bush following her successful quelling of the July 27 mutiny of "rogue junior officers" of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), who, among others, denounced the alleged corruption in the military.

The mutinous soldiers alleged that AFP weapons and munitions were sold to MILF rebels, with whom the military has been doing battle for nearly three decades.

On May 19, during her state visit to Washington DC, Mrs. Arroyo received Bush’s offer to help in the form of material support and diplomatic resources for Philippine government peace initiatives with the MILF.

Bush, however, was quick to add that the US assistance would be subject to the requirements set by the 1987 Constitution.

At the outset, the US government promised to provide $30 million in financial assistance to the MILF rebels who return to the fold through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as soon as the final peace agreement is signed.

It will be recalled that USAID also provided financial assistance to former rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) after it signed a final peace pact with the Philippine government in 1996.

In her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday in Congress, the President announced that one of the "harvests" of her administration was the forthcoming resumption of peace negotiations with the MILF.

The talks are slated to resume next week, but Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Blas Ople said the talks may begin as early as this week.

Malaysian Ambassador to Manila Mohamed Taufik said his government was prepared to host the talks aimed at ending the Muslim insurgency, adding the talks are scheduled to open on Aug. 4.

"Secretary (Eduardo) Ermita informed me yesterday that the preliminary opening of the talks will be on Aug. 4," Taufik said, referring to the GRP chief negotiator and presidential adviser on the peace process.

"We are prepared to host (the peace talks) if both parties are prepared to agree without hitches," Taufik added.

Malaysia has been acting as a third-party intermediary in the peace talks, which were suspended earlier this year amid a spate of bombings and attacks blamed by the military on the MILF. — With Mike Frialde, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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