Oct 212014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/10/09MANILA2198.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA2198
2009-10-19 09:41
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MANILA 002198

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/20/2019
TAGS: PREL PTER PGOV PINS EAID KISL RP
SUBJECT: CHARGE DISCUSSES PEACE PROSPECTS, TERRORISM WITH MILF LEADER

REF: A. MANILA 2110 (PEACE ADVISER OUTLINES STATUS OF
PEACE TALKS)
¶B. MANILA 2097 (PROPOSED USG REPLY TO MILF LETTER
TO PRESIDENT OBAMA)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Chairman Murad Ebrahim of the separatist
group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) welcomed the
Charge d’Affaires October 16 to MILF headquarters in Mindanao
to discuss recent progress in informal peace talks with the
Philippine government and to express thanks for U.S.
development assistance and humanitarian relief programs. In
a 90-minute meeting attended by top MILF Central Committee
members and MILF armed forces commanders, Chairman Murad
encouraged the U.S. to move beyond its substantial
development assistance to provide more political support to
the peace process. While stopping short of issuing a formal
invitation for the U.S. to join the International Contact
Group (Ref A) in support of peace talks, he nonetheless
labeled the U.S. as the “only country” that could help solve
the MILF’s decades-long conflict with the Philippine
government. The Charge reiterated U.S. support for a
peaceful solution to the conflict. The Charge also reminded
Chairman Murad of the need for the MILF to take action
against terrorism in Mindanao and urged him to support
efforts to rescue a recently kidnapped Irish Catholic priest.
END SUMMARY.

CHARGE MEETS MILF CHAIRMAN
————————–

¶2. (SBU) On October 16, the Charge traveled to Maguindanao
Province, Mindanao, to meet with Moro Islamic Liberation
Front (MILF) Chairman Murad Ebrahim. An honor guard greeted
the Charge and other delegation members on their arrival at
the MILF leadership’s heavily guarded Camp Darapanan,
accessible from a poorly maintained dirt trail off a main
road just north of Cotabato City. Men young and old in
Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) camouflage uniforms
stood at intervals in formation on the two kilometer stretch
from the main road to the camp’s Bangsamoro Development
Agency office, with guns and rocket launchers at their sides.

MILF WORKING TO MOVE PEACE TALKS FORWARD
—————————————-

¶3. (C) In a cordial tone, MILF Chairman Murad expressed
gratitude for the U.S. government’s support of the peace
process, embodied in exchanges of letters during the past six
years with U.S. officials, and called the Americans the
“friends of the Bangsamoro.” In good spirits and speaking
English fluently, surrounded by a dozen top MILF members
(including Peace Panel members and armed forces commanders),
Chairman Murad said he looked forward to cooperating with the
U.S. government to achieve peace in the MILF’s homeland, but
noted the MILF still had concerns about the perceived lack of
political will on the part of the Philippine government,
given the discouraging August 2008 collapse of peace efforts.
Still, the MILF was prepared to “maximize the potential with
President Arroyo,” despite her short time remaining in
office. Murad said the parties expected to finalize a
precursor agreement on Civilian Protection during the next
round of informal talks the week of October 26 in Kuala
Lumpur.

CHARGE COMMENDS PROGRESS, REITERATES STANDING POLICY

——————————————— ——-

¶4. (C) The Charge d’Affaires commended the Chairman on recent
and anticipated progress in informal peace talks and assured
him of continued U.S. support for the peace process. The
U.S. would stand ready to provide development support as
talks move forward, the Charge said, and would provide
additional assistance following a peace agreement. U.S.
policy toward the MILF remained consistent with the
principles expressed in the 2003 letter from former EAP A/S
Kelly to MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim. The U.S. welcomes the
MILF’s stated willingness to compromise in their quest for
peace.

MILF SEEKS LARGER ROLE FOR U.S.
——————————-

MANILA 00002198 002 OF 004

¶5. (C) While extremely appreciative of U.S. development aid
that “gives hope” to his people, Murad appealed to the Charge
for the U.S. to play a more public role on the political
aspects of the peace process. However, he did not
specifically extend an invitation for the U.S. to participate
in a new mechanism to support the peace process, the
International Contact Group (ICG), whose creation was
endorsed by both parties as well as by the Malaysian
government (as facilitator of peace talks) in September. “We
look for a more active role of the U.S. in order to push the
peace process,” Murad said, noting that “the U.S. is the only
country we feel can push peaceful resolution of the conflict.
You are aware of the background of the problem. The
influence of America in the Philippines (is one that) no
other country can match.” Because of its “basic principles
of fairness and justice,” the U.S. owed this help to the Moro
people, Murad said, citing the Moros’ historical desire for
Muslim Mindanao to be incorporated as a U.S. possession.
Murad emphasized that development aid and political support
for negotiations — “peacemaking” — should always proceed
together in a mutually reinforcing manner. In a surprisingly
frank and revealing comment, Murad expressed concern that
development assistance alone, absent political advances,
could “purge the insurgency” of its momentum, further
demonstrating the need for development and political progress
to go hand-in-hand.

¶6. (C) Expanding on Murad’s remarks, loquacious MILF Peace
Panel Senior Member Michael Mastura encouraged the U.S. to
play a more concrete role and to shift its policy away from
counterterrorism operations toward a policy of “peace” — a
possible reference to peace-building activities. Although he
understood the framework for U.S. military support to the
Philippine military in Mindanao under the Visiting Forces
Agreement (VFA) was counterterrorism, Mastura suggested the
U.S. should consider a new policy focused on peace-building
rather than just counterterrorism. He lamented that U.S.
forces did not intervene during the year of fighting between
Philippine military and MILF forces that followed the
collapse of the territorial agreement in August 2008. The
MILF Central Committee, he said, felt that the U.S was
playing an “ambivalent role” in the peace process, and that
U.S. support should extend beyond development assistance and
confidence building measures.

U.S. READY TO LISTEN, BUT CONCERNED ABOUT TERRORISM
——————————————— ——

¶7. (C) The Charge said that the U.S. was prepared to listen
if the two parties engaged in negotiations had specific
recommendations on a role for the U.S. She reminded Murad
that the U.S. took the MILF’s commitment to peaceful
resolution of the conflict “at face value,” to include a
rejection of terror not just in words, but in deeds, as well.
The October 11 kidnapping of Irish national Father Michael
Sinnott, the Charge said, was a reminder of the need for all
citizens of Mindanao to have security, and she relayed to
Murad the extreme concern of the Irish Ambassador regarding
Father Sinnott’s ill health and need for heart medication.
The MILF had a role to play in helping the situation and
preventing terrorist and kidnap-for-ransom groups from
exploiting the lack of security. Clarifying the role of U.S.
service members in Mindanao, the Charge emphasized that the
VFA provided for military cooperation between the U.S. and
Philippine governments on training and support only; U.S.
forces were not participating in combat operations or
operating unilaterally.

¶8. (C) Mastura noted that the MILF had a clear position
against terrorism and insisted that Indonesia, not the MILF,
should be the target of U.S. terrorism concerns. The issue
of security and counterterrorism was, after all, separate
from the MILF quest for autonomy, and had more to do with the
Indonesians who came to Mindanao than with the MILF.
Moreover, Mastura noted, the MILF was the only rebel group in
the country to have signed an agreement with the Philippine
government to pursue terrorist groups, a reference to the
joint Philippine-MILF policing force.

BANGSAMORO PEOPLE SEEK PEACE AGREEMENT
————————————–

¶9. (C) Murad said that the 10,000 civilians and military
members that make up the MILF wanted a political solution to

MANILA 00002198 003 OF 004

the problem and placed tremendous importance on a written
agreement with the Philippine government, which explained
their disappointment at the Philippine Supreme Court’s ruling
that undermined last year’s territorial agreement. MILF
Peace Panel Chairman Mohager Iqbal said the MILF did not view
the derailing of the agreement as the fault of the court, but
rather the fault of the government’s peace panel. Vice
Chairman for Political Affairs Ghazali Jafaar cautioned that
the biggest challenge in crafting a peace agreement would be
to ensure it would be permanent, just, and acceptable to a
majority of the Bangsamoro people. At present, he said, the
Moro people were unsatisfied, and, as such, were not willing
to give up their struggle.

ROLE OF DEVELOPMENT
——————-

¶10. (C) USAID Acting Mission Director briefly reviewed
successful U.S. engagement on development projects in
Mindanao, noting that 60% of U.S. development funds for the
Philippines are dedicated to Mindanao, with a significant
portion going to projects in conflict-affected areas.
Examples of successful U.S. projects in Mindanao included
emergency assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs)
in central Mindanao, democracy, governance, and conflict
resolution programs, and major infrastructure projects like
the Jolo airport runway and water systems on Basilan.
Responding to Mastura’s assertion that development assistance
programs were forcing internally displaced persons to return
to communities unprepared to accept them, the USAID Director
explained that U.S. programs supported the humanitarian and
livelihood needs of IDPs and did not direct their movement
out of IDP camps to their home communities, which was purely
a Philippine government decision.

COMMENT
——-

¶11. (C) The MILF sought and received U.S. assurances of
support for the peace process and witnessed U.S. willingness
to hear MILF perspectives on the historical roots of the
conflict. By inviting such a large internal MILF audience to
the meeting — including senior MILF military commanders —
Chairman Murad and his peace panel may have been seeking to
demonstrate to their military wing that the U.S. remains
focused on counterterrorism and, despite recent media
coverage to the contrary (Ref B), is not engaged in
counterinsurgency efforts against the MILF. Murad may have
also sought to reinforce to his commanders the notion that a
peaceful settlement is possible, and that they had continued
U.S. support for a comprehensive peace agreement. The MILF
and Philippine peace panels are expected to review next week
in Kuala Lumpur their “short lists” of countries they will
recommend for the ICG. While it is not clear that either the
Philippine government or the MILF want us to form part of the
Contact Group, the MILF was clearly eager for an active U.S.
role in the process overall.

MEETING ATTENDANCE
——————

¶12. (SBU) The participants in the meeting at Camp Darapanan’s
Bangsamoro Development Agency office were:

MILF Members:

Chairman Murad Ebrahim
Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Ghadzali Jaafar
MILF Peace Panel Chairman Mohager Iqbal
MILF Peace Panel Secretariat Jun Mantawil
MILF Peace Panel Senior Member Michael Mastura
Central Committee Secretary Muhammed Ameen
MILF Chair of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of
Hostilities Toks Ebrahim
Commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces Gordon
Sayfrullah
Other MILF armed forces members from Tawi Tawi, Sulu,
Basilan, and Zamboanga.

U.S. Side:

Charge d’Affaires Leslie A. Bassett
USAID Acting Mission Director Elzadia Washington
Defense Attache Col. Tony Senci
Political Officer Michael Pignatello

MANILA 00002198 004 OF 004

KENNEY

   

 

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