Wednesday, 19 May 2010

EU joins IMT on Mindanao peace process; RP elated

MANILA, May 19 (PNA) — The European Union (EU) has accepted membership in the International Monitoring Team (IMT) on the Mindanao peace process, a move welcomed by the negotiating panels of both the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) Panel (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The EU joins Japan, Brunei, Libya and the group’s head, Malaysia in the monitoring group. The latter is also the Facilitator of the overall peace negotiations.

EU’s participation will be finalized once appropriate terms of reference TOR) have been agreed with the GRP-MILF, according to EU ambassador to Manila, Alistair MacDonald, who informed both sides of the decision.

A revised TOR for the IMT agreed in December 2009 include four components, among them the Humanitarian, Rehabilitation and Development (HRD) aspect which the EU will now lead.

Norway has also been invited and had indicated its willingness to participate in the IMT depending on the TOR. Norway is not a EU member but is closely associated with the Union through its membership in the European Economic Area (EEA).

“The EU’s decision to join the IMT is indeed good news for both GRP and MILF Panels which now endeavor to preserve the gains of the peace talks as we transition from the current administration to the next,” GRP chief negotiator and Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael E. Seguis said in a letter to MacDonald

MacDonald announced EU’s acceptance at the reception on Tuesday night celebrating the European Union National Day last May 9, as requested by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.

“The EU’s presence in the monitoring team would be an unequivocal manifestation of its support and commitment to the peace and development agenda in Mindanao, for which we are thankful,” Seguis added.

MacDonald said the decision was based on its assessment that "Mindanao has a tremendous potential to be a prosperous and peaceful part of the Philippines, for the benefit of all who live there, whether Moros, Christians or Lumads.

”But this potential can only be realized if the vicious cycle of conflict and poverty can be broken, and if local governance can respond to the needs of the people and provide effective services to all."

He added he is “delighted that in addition to our longstanding development and humanitarian cooperation with the Philippines in general and in Mindanao more specifically, the EU will now be able to help more directly in the peace process, joining the efforts of other international and local partners, both in the IMT and in the International Contact Group."

From EU headquarters in Brussels, Catherine Ashton, High Representative (HR) of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, said “the European Union attaches great importance to helping promote peace and development in Mindanao, and has long been active in providing both development and humanitarian assistance in the conflict-affected areas."

”The EU was honored to be invited by the Parties to assist further in the peace process, by taking part in the IMT, and I see this as a very important contribution which the EU can make, together with other international partners, to help promote peace, security and prosperity in Mindanao, and to help strengthen the long-term development of the Philippines," HR Ashton said.

She noted that since the end of 2008, the EU and its Member-States had provided more than Euros 14.5 million (about P820 million, at current exchange rates) in humanitarian assistance to help civilians displaced by the conflict in Mindanao.

Peace negotiations bogged down in August 28 when a GRP-MILF provision for a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity was declared unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court. Violence ensued, displacing thousands of civilians in Mindanao. Talks resumed in December 2009.

While last-ditch efforts are exerted to carve a possible interim agreement before a new administration is installed in Malacanang on June 30, “there is still a great need to build confidence, a context in which international support is of great importance,” the EU in Manila said in explaining the rationale of its acceptance.

In addition, an International Contact Group (ICG) was established in September 2009 to assist the GRP and MILF panels and Malaysia as Facilitator in carrying the peace process forward. Its members are Japan, Turkey and the United Kingdom and a number of international non-governmental organizations.

EC development assistance grants to Mindanao since the 1990s have amounted to some Euros 96 million in total (about P5.4 billion, at current exchange rates) focusing on rural development and the environment, agrarian reform, and the health sector.

The EC has also provided some Euros 21 million (P1.2 billion) in grants for livelihood support and rehabilitation for civilian victims of conflict and about Euros23 million (P1.3 billion) in humanitarian assistance, particularly for internally-displaced persons (IDPs).

Separately and on a bilateral basis, a number of EU Member-States, such as Spain, have also been active in providing development and humanitarian assistance in Mindanao. (PNA)

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