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Duterte assures fugitive Moro chief peace will get done

Posted On Wednesday, 13 July 2016 11:28

Hours after whisking a fugitive Moro leader from his southern island lair, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte promised Moro National Liberation (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari he will make the necessary changes to achieve peace in the Muslim south.

In a televised speech from the presidential palace late Thursday, Duterte promised that the job would get done.

“I assure you, I said, as you have narrated, we will come up with the modality and then of course, how to place us in our proper homeland, our Mindanao," the president said.

Chief peace adviser Jesus Dureza had earlier fetched the MNLF leader from Sulu after a court suspended an arrest warrant in his name.

Duterte wants Misuari to play an integral part in his plan to consolidate present and past peace agreements with all Moro groups in an effort to end a decades-old conflict in which around 100,000 people have died.

Misuari, however, has a warrant -- temporarily suspended -- out for his arrest on charges of rebellion after a 2013 siege on Zamboanga City he is accused of orchestrating left 200 dead and more than 100,000 people displaced.

Misuari -- who in 1996 led the MNLF in a peace deal with the government -- is suspected of starting the siege in protest at the framework for a present deal with the country's largest Muslim rebel organization and one-time MNLF splinter group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Misuari faction has accused the previous government of abrogating final 1996 peace agreements with the MNLF when it held negotiations with the MILF, which led to the creation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

The MILF agreement is still to be completed, however, having been shelved for the 2016 Presidential election, which saw Duterte swept to power

On Thursday, Duterte said that the warrant had been lifted on his orders so peace talks could begin.

“It is with great happiness that I announce to the nation that Chairman Nur Misuari, our brother, who heads the MNLF, has finally decided to just accept my invitation... to talk to us,” the president said, assuring Misuari that there was never any intention to deprive him of his freedom.

Dureza said that Misuari and Duterte embraced like “long-lost brothers”.

“I came here to thank him for restoring my freedom, if only partially,” Misuari, wearing a printed kaffiyeh, said.

“Should he need our cooperation in his campaign for peace, [he] can count on us.”

The 77-year-old MNLF founder claimed he had moved against a Daesh-linked group based in the south notorious for kidnapping and beheading foreigners at Duterte’s request and said he was directly responsible for the rescue of a Norwegian hostage from the group -- the Abu Sayyaf -- in September.

Duterte, addressing Misuari as “Brother Nur”, said that he and Misuari had previously spoken about finally talking peace in the southern region of Mindanao, and added that little did they know then that the time would come that they could talk about such understanding with the government.

“We would like to ask that we work together with our Moro brothers and create a country that is really, that is just, and that is good and that would be for the next generations to come,” the president said.

He said the peace process should be "inclusive" of all interest groups in the Mindanao, including the MNLF and that it would be completed in two or three years, and see the establishment of a Bangsamoro Authority in Mindanao under a federal system of government.

“I told congress if they are able to craft a territorial structure for the federal government and go ahead with the elections and provide the presidency for another form of government, I assure you that upon its completion, if it could be done earlier, three, two years, you have my word, I will resign as president and pave a way for a territorial government."

Both the MILF and the MNLF have maintained that the new Bangsamoro region should be created before the administration pushes its plan to change the form of government into a federal system.

Misuari's temporary freedom comes with a number of conditions.

It is for just six months and can be revoked, authorization from a regional court must be sought if peace talks will be held outside the Philippines, and all parties must file monthly reports on the progress of the talks and Misuari's whereabouts during the suspension.

On Thursday, Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco -- who was also the city's mayor during the 2013 siege -- told reporters that her city "strongly" supports the president's initiative for peace.

However, she pointed out that the suspension of the proceedings "does not mean the accountability of those responsible will be forgotten".

She added that the city government would continue to pursue its "cases in court against all those responsible MNLF members during the siege".


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