KUALA LUMPUR: ARROYO ARRIVES HERE TO A RED CARPET WELCOME

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA, October 16, 2003  (from OPS) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo arrived here late this afternoon to a red carpet welcome to attend as invited guest to the 10th Session of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) hosted by Malaysia.

The Presidential plane carrying the President touched down at the ultra modern Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 5:25 p.m.

The President was accompanied by a lean Philippine delegation composed of Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, Defense Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, Chief of the Presidential Management Staff Silvestre Afable, Jr., Presidential Adviser on Special Concerns Norberto Gonzales, Gov. Parouk Hussin of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Romualdo Ong.

This is the first time that a Philippine president has been invited to attend as a special guest of the OIC.

Malaysia’s hosting of the 10th OIC Summit is highly considered significant for Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who will step down from office on October 31 after guiding Malaysia into a spectacular economic boom during his watch.

The President will have a chance to meet heads of state of the influential Islamic body during her overnight stay here.

The President will be holding bilateral talks with the leaders of Bahrain, Iraq, Iran and possibly with Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

FROM THE PHILIPPINE STAR, OCTOBER 16, 2003

(STAR) President Arroyo left yesterday for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she has been invited to address the 10th annual leaders’ summit of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).

The President is expected to enlist the help of the 57 member-states of the OIC in supporting the government’s peace process in Mindanao.

"I am going to Kuala Lumpur to seek broader assistance and support of the Islamic world for peace and development in Mindanao, which will open up a wider spectrum of opportunities to promote the welfare of Filipino Muslims and enhance our diplomacy with the Islamic world," the President said in a pre-departure statement.

"I am going to Kuala Lumpur in search of lasting peace in Mindanao and to make sure it will continue to be within our grasp," she said,

The President alluded to the government’s efforts to restart the stalled formal peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) being brokered by Malaysia.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir, who is finishing his term as Malaysia’s leader, is the incoming chairman of the OIC.

"This has something to do not only with greater autonomy or social justice for Muslim Filipinos," Mrs. Arroyo said. "It has something to do with their search for dignity, heritage and a sense of belonging to a respected community within a diverse nation."

She added that "as we seek the keys to peace, we shall also open the doors to development and progress... We shall continue to join the nations of the world in an earnest will to find harmony and stability in the midst of ethnic and religious discord."

The President was invited by Mahathir to address the OIC summit.

"This is the first time a Philippine head of state joins the largest gathering of Muslim leaders in the world," she said. The President said she will seek observer status for the Philippines in the OIC.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said, "I think this occasion would enable our President to really push for the observer status of the Philippines at the OIC and, in some way, this would help smoothen the peace talks between the government and the MILF."

Bunye, who is part of the President’s official delegation to the OIC summit, referred to the offers made by Libya, Brunei Darussalam and Bahrain to join the OIC third-party team in monitoring the ongoing ceasefire between the government and the MILF.

Mahathir, he said, "is very supportive (of) our peace efforts and I think Malaysia and the OIC itself would be a big help to our peace initiatives (in Mindanao)."

Only four other countries have been granted observer status by the OIC: Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Central African Republic, Thailand and the Ivory Coast.

Also in the President’s party for the OIC summit are Foreign Secretary Blas Ople, Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita and presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles.

The OIC summit takes place every three years. In 2000, it was held in Doha, Qatar.

Before she left for Malaysia yesterday, the President again designated Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. as head of the government’s caretaker committee until she returns Friday.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Narciso Abaya and Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Nestor Santillan led the send-off party for the President, who left aboard a chartered Philippine Airlines (PAL) flight.

The sendoff ceremonies were held at the Kalayaan Lounge of the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing at Villamor Airbase in Pasay City. Sense Of Siege

In Putrajaya, Malaysia, the OIC summit opened with a sense of siege that pervaded the designer-city of domes and spires as the world’s Muslim leaders gather for the summit opening today in the shadow of a war on terrorism which many see as a war on Islam.

With countries under foreign occupation or threat and Muslims treated with suspicion in the West, the kings, sheiks, princes and presidents of the OIC are confronting a historic turning point.

The summit in the newly built administrative capital of Malaysia, located a half-hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur, will be the biggest meeting of Islamic leaders since their world was shaken by the fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

OIC secretary general Abdelouahed Belkeziz set the tone for the conference when he opened a preparatory meeting with the warning that the Muslim world faced dangers "probably unequaled in contemporary Islamic history."

"Islam itself, together with its civilization, culture and message, (is) being accused," he said, with "Muslims abroad considered with suspicion, besieged and deprived of their rights."

Acknowledging the political and economic weakness of the OIC’s 57 nations and 1.3 billion people, delegates have called for an Islamic "renaissance."

Mahathir said "today, we have to catch up with the west. And we can catch up, because Muslims are just as intelligent as anybody else."

Asked what the OIC could do about the recent Israeli raid into member-state Syria, apart from condemn it, Mahathir said, "we can go to war, but we have no capacity to go to war. That’s the problem, because we allow ourselves to become weak, people bully us."

The OIC reflects the wide cultural and demographic range of Islam, bringing the oil-rich Gulf states together with some of the world’s poorest nations and the fledgling Islamic republics born from the break-up of the Soviet Union.

It also reflects wide political differences, embracing Iran — described by United States President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil" — along with Pakistan, one of Washington’s strongest allies in the war on terrorism.

With headquarters in Jeddah, the OIC derives the bulk of its financial support from Saudi Arabia and its policies reflect the Saudi influence, particularly with respect to Israel.

But, while the Jewish state will no doubt come under fire, this summit is also wrestling with the fact that two member-states — Afghanistan and Iraq — have been invaded and their governments overthrown by the US since the last summit in Qatar.

Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, will attend, while Iraq will be represented by the head of the US-appointed Governing Council, Ayad Allawi.

A draft resolution on Iraq is surprisingly free of anti-US rhetoric, welcoming the Governing Council and condemning ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

Most OIC member-states strongly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq, but the resolution, while pressing for a US withdrawal and for the United Nations to take control, indicates they feel it is now time to move on from condemnation of Washington to rebuilding the country.

Among the leaders attending the summit are King Abdullah II of Jordan, King Mohamed VI of Morocco, Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and the presidents of Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Algeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sudan and Egypt.

Besides Mrs. Arroyo, Russian President Vladimir Putin will also be a guest at the summit.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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