Sep 152014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/02/08MANILA455.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA455
2008-02-21 11:42
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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DE RUEHML #0455/01 0521142
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O 211142Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9836
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 000455

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP, AND EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/21/2018
TAGS: PREL PTER RP
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR URGES MILF CHIEF TO EMBRACE PEACE, REJECT TERRORISTS

REF: A. 07 MANILA 3676 (MUSLIM INSURGENT CHAIRMAN
¶B. MALAYSIAN FACILITATOR WELCOME USG SUPPORT

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney, reasons 1.4 b and d.

¶1. (C) Summary: The Ambassador met February 19 with the head
of the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to urge
more rapid progress toward peace, an end to support for
terrorists, and a clear commitment to stability and
prosperity. MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim warmly welcomed the
Ambassador’s visit to Camp Darapanan in Mindanao, appreciated
U.S. support for the peace process and repeated his request
for a U.S. role in supporting the implementation of an
agreement, along with other countries (reftel). Along with
Malaysian peace talks facilitator Datuk Othman, who
accompanied the Ambassador and DCM on a flight from Manila,
Murad professed a strong commitment to peace and acknowledged
that terrorists “take advantage of us.” Murad predicted that
a peace accord was within reach this year, and asserted that
the MILF was firmly united behind him and that he was
reaching out to the rival Moro National Liberation Front
(MNLF). Both Murad and Othman acknowledged progress on the
peace talks, which had moved beyond territorial issues to
governance, but voiced concern that ongoing political
controversies could sidetrack the Arroyo administration.
Datuk Othman also noted his good ties with Embassy Kuala
Lumpur, praising post’s efforts in support of the peace
process. End summary.

¶2. (C) This first meeting for a U.S. ambassador with the MILF
leadership took place at the group’s headquarters outside
Cotabato. The MILF marked the visit with considerable
ceremony, including an honor guard, cavalry display, cultural
show, dancing and flowers. Chairman Murad warmly welcomed
the visit, saying that there were some 3,000 people in the
camp, and all of them wanted to meet the Ambassador. The
meeting also drew extensive coverage from the Manila-based
national press, who were invited by the MILF.

————–
TIME FOR PEACE
————–

¶3. (C) The dialogue began with a restricted meeting that
included MILF Chairman Murad, Malaysian facilitator Datuk
Othman, the Ambassador and DCM. Murad stressed his view that
now was the moment to move forward on the Mindanao peace
process, especially in light of the ARMM elections slated for
summer 2008, as well as the 2010 presidential vote. On a
hopeful note, Murad forecast that a full peace agreement with
the government was possible this year, and stated that the
MILF was united behind him, not factionalized as some
claimed. Moreover, he was reaching out to the rival Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF) as well in an effort to draw
the two groups together. Still, he considered it essential
to demonstrate continued progress in order to keep both his
own followers and the government committed to the peace
process. Noting that he was growing old, Murad emphasized
that this commitment to peace grew out of a personal sense of
duty, not a desire for personal benefit in a new political
entity for the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Murad asked for the USG’s sense of the Philippine
government’s commitment to the peace process.

———————————
TERRORISTS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MILF
———————————

¶4. (C) The Ambassador voiced appreciation for the opportunity
to discuss these vital issues, and agreed with Murad on the
importance of moving rapidly to conclude a peace deal. But
more than just concluding the deal, it was equally important
to ensure that implementation of the peace accord was
successful. Much was at stake, and improving the prosperity
of Mindanao depended on improving security in the region.
The MILF had a major role in this, not least in denying
sanctuary and transit to terrorists. These extremists were
no friends of Mindanao in achieving peace or prosperity. As
Murad acknowledged that “the terrorists take advantage of
us,” the Ambassador pressed the point, stating terrorists
used MILF areas for harbor and transit. It was vital for the
MILF to work with the Philippine government and the
international community to clear up this terrorist threat.
The MILF had important information that could help alleviate
this serious problem, and the USG would welcome discussions
on this and other points with MILF representatives. Progress
on eliminating terrorists would be extremely helpful in

MANILA 00000455 002 OF 003

moving toward peace.

——————————
MANILA DISTRACTED BY POLITICS?
——————————

¶5. (C) Malaysian facilitator Othman opined that progress on
terrorism would come with progress in the peace talks. Murad
concurred, emphasizing again the need for real progress with
the government. Peace was a victory for all sides, and all
would benefit, but Murad wondered whether the Arroyo
administration could focus on the peace process given the
many political problems it faced in Manila. The
administration was not strong, especially with presidential
elections in two years’ time. Nonetheless, Murad went on to
say it was important to have an international presence to
help implement a peace accord, and said he would welcome
views in future on what role the U.S. could play in
supporting implementation of an agreement, along with other
key countries.

¶6. (C) The Ambassador acknowledged that President Arroyo
certainly faced distractions on the political front, but was
clearly determined to push through with an enduring peace
accord. And from a purely pragmatic view, pulling off a
peace agreement would mark a major success for her
presidential agenda. Chairman Murad voiced strong agreement,
saying that a peace deal would represent a “win-win”
situation for the government and MILF.

—————————————
TALKS SHOW PROGRESS, BUT HURDLES REMAIN
—————————————

¶7. (C) Despite the concerns about Manila, both Murad and
Othman noted progress in the peace talks. The negotiations
used to focus on questions regarding territory but had now
moved on, with the most recent January 31-February 1 session
in Kuala Lumpur dealing with the admittedly more difficult
issues of governance. The sides were grappling with the
“difficult but workable” constitutional issues, such as
“ownership” of resources vs. “control.” Still, the two
complained that the government often sought to craft language
that included escape clauses that allowed the government to
overrule a section if it was in the public interest, but
without specifically defining the public interest.

————————————
DEVELOPMENT AID KEY TO WINNING PEACE
————————————

¶8. (C) Issues of livelihood and assistance were clearly on
the minds of both Murad and Othman, with the Malaysian
suggesting additional development assistance would be vital
in cementing a peace deal. In particular, livelihood
training needed to start even before the deal was signed,
Othman suggested, to give insurgents some alternative to
fighting. Training and aid also needed to be spread widely,
so no one region or group grew jealous. Big business
interests were another sticking point, according to Othman,
both because businesses controlled so much land and because
they were reluctant to turn over a percentage of profits to
the Bangsamoro. The Ambassador stressed the need for care on
this, as business was vital to development and driving away
business could have profound consequences.

¶9. (C) For our part, the Ambassador said, the Embassy seeks
to develop further our contacts at all levels with the MILF
to enhance transparency and understanding. The contacts
should not just be among the top leadership but also among
MILF central committee members and the broader country team.
Murad welcomed this, and said that his lieutenants would be
in contact soon.

¶10. (C) In an aside, Othman remarked on the high value he
placed on his relationship with U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur.
He said he had a good dialogue with the Embassy, which was
emblematic of the important role the U.S. played in the
talks.

—————————
ALLAYING FEARS ON BALIKATAN
—————————

¶11. (C) The group then moved to an expanded meeting where
Murad introduced some 15 members of the MILF Central
Committee and the Ambassador introduced USAID Mission

MANILA 00000455 003 OF 003

Director, JSOTF-P Commander and U.S. Navy Attache, who
accompanied her. In the larger meeting, the Ambassador
reaffirmed our commitment to peace and offered more contact
with the MILF at all levels. On the margins, members of the
U.S. side clarified misconceptions about the ongoing
Balikatan exercises and explained that only humanitarian
activities were planned for Mindanao. The U.S. side also
discussed U.S. development assistance in Mindanao and the
upcoming visit of the USNS Mercy.

————————————-
AMBASSADOR MEETS OTHER MUSLIM LEADERS
————————————-

¶12. (C) During the trip to Mindanao, the Ambassador also met
with Cotabato Mayor Sema, who was a long-time acquaintance of
Chairman Murad, having attended high school and served in the
MNLF together in years past. While ARMM Governor Zaldy
Ampatuan, scion of the powerful clan that dominates Mindanao
politics, was away on travel February 19, the Ambassador met
with him and his chief advisors at the Embassy in Manila
February 20. During the cordial meeting, Ampatuan emphasized
his support for the peace process but also called for
increased assistance, preferably directed to his ARMM
development office. The Governor also voiced concern over
the lack of coordination by the Philippine government and
armed forces in the runup to the Balikatan exercises, but
welcomed the Embassy’s outreach efforts to explain the
humanitarian nature of the Mindanao exercises. Ampatuan was
also enthusiastic at the prospect of having the hospital ship
Mercy visit his region in the coming months.

——-
COMMENT
——-

¶13. (C) The MILF were clearly excited to have us visit and
eager to be on their best behavior. They viewed this as a
step forward in our continuing contacts with them.
KENNEY

   

 

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