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Irish legislator: Peace talks are not quick and easy

/ 06:53 PM September 06, 2011

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—”Peace is never easy to achieve.”

This was what Irish parliamentarian Dominic Hannigan advised negotiators of both the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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The advice came on the same day the MILF declared that the sides had hit an impasse or  deadlock.

The government-MILF peace process has been going on and off for 14 years now.

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“A lot of people find it very, very difficult to make the steps along the path to peace,” said Hannigan, who chairs a parliamentary committee of the Republic of Ireland overseeing implementation of the landmark Good Friday Agreement that settled the conflict in northern Ireland in 1998.

Hannigan, who is on a three-week visit to the Philippines as a volunteer of the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), told reporters here on Monday that resolution of the Mindanao conflict can  be achieved only if the peace process was made “inclusive to those who can help.”

“Partners who can deliver peace must be involved,” Hannigan said.

He said that as chair of the parliamentary committee on the Good Friday Agreement, he hopes to share with Filipinos the Irish experience in resolving conflict.

Hannigan admitted that specific contexts of lingering conflicts throughout the world vary, but there are also a number of similarities that can be used in the search for problem-solving models.

These  include  the persistence of demands for autonomy, the perennial lack of basic services like education, poor conditions for the exercise of civil rights, and economic deprivation.

Hannigan also urged the government and the MILF peace negotiators to “take the process as far as you can go.”

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But he pointed out that the willingness to compromise, the presence of a safe and neutral environment, and mutual trust are what it takes to reach a workable agreement between the negotiating parties.

Drawing parallels from the Northern Ireland experience, Hannigan said international involvement is also important in moving a particular peace process especially if issues are really contentious.

He said that in the case of Northern Ireland, the United States was instrumental in the process of crafting the Good Friday Agreement, largely by mediating between the parties.

The Agreement consists of two components: one, between the governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland; the other is between eight political parties in the UK-controlled Northern Ireland and the two governments.

In the Mindanao peace process, the talks between the government and the MILF is being facilitated by Malaysia, which also heads the multinational group International Monitoring Team overseeing compliance by both parties with a 1997 ceasefire  and ensuring the protection of civilians.

Diplomatically, Japan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, the US and the European Union are involved in pushing the parties to a political settlement.

On the problem of renegade Moro rebel Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato, Hannigan said the government and the MILF must be wary of breakaway or splinter groups.

He said that similar challenges  confronted the Northern Ireland peace process soon after it was inked.

“But these can’t be allowed to distract the process,” Hannigan said.

In Cotabato City, meanwhile, the MILF officially declared that there exists a deadlock in the peace process and called on Malaysia and the International Contact Group to step in.

“There is nothing to talk about for now; the two drafts are far apart. The GPH is talking about integration couched with autonomy label, while the MILF will not settle for anything less than genuine autonomy,” Jun Mantawil, head of the MILF peace panel secretariat, said on the rebel group’s website.

“When there is a deadlock, similar to the current status of the GPH-MILF peace negotiation, the book says the role of the third party is needed,” Mantawil said.

“I think it is time for the facilitator to shuttle between Manila and Camp Darapanan and work to close the gaps of the two ‘heaven-and-earth’ drafts,” Mantawil added.

He also said the members of the ICG can play a big supplementary role to the facilitator, which he thinks is what the ICG member countries and international non-government organizations (INGOs) are doing.

Reports from Ryan Rosauro, Judy Quiros and Edwin Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Foreign affairs, Ireland, MILF, Mindanao, Moro, Moro Insurgency, Peace talks
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