COTABATO, Philippines – They came by foot, some arriving days early – men taking time off from work and veiled women in long dresses with children in tow, lugging bottles of water and baskets of food under the scorching sun.
The goals of peace, a Muslim homeland and perhaps even prosperity – such elusive dreams for so many years – seemed almost within grasp.
No one wanted to miss out on having their voice heard by the Muslim negotiators working on a peace deal with the Philippine government.
The rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s first congress drew an estimated 100,000 people to Camp Darapanan in the southern Philippines’ Sultan Kudarat town this week as peace talks to resolve the region’s decades-old Muslim separatist conflict enter what may be the final stretch…
“We are confident, by the grace of Allah, that we will succeed,” presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles said in a speech.
But Abhoud Syed Lingga, executive director of the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, believes that much remains to be ironed out.
“What are the hard facts that would tell us (peace) is already at hand? So far what they have shown us is only a joint statement which is very broad,” he told The Associated Press.
“There might be an agreement within this year, but I don’t think there will be a final agreement,” he said, cautioning that “political statements” from both sides may be sparking “false hopes.”
The three-day consultations yielded a resolution granting the MILF leadership full authority to negotiate for self-rule.
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said the mandate allows the leadership to pick from a number of proposals, ranging from full independence to a federal state, a commonwealth state or a free association state…