Oct 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/08/09MANILA1739.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MANILA1739
2009-08-17 11:10
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO4057
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1739/01 2291110
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 171110Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4907
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001739

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/18/2019
TAGS: PGOV PTER RP
SUBJECT: EVEN AFTER DEADLY CLASH, GOVERNMENT AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PEACE WITH MUSLIM REBELS

REF: A. MANILA 1715 (MILITARY LAUNCHES MAJOR STRIKE
AGAINST BASILAN TERRORISTS)
¶B. MANILA 1575 (INFORMAL PEACE TALKS
¶C. MUSLIM GROUP SEEKS DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE)
¶D. MANILA 1568 (SUSPENSION OF MILITARY OPERATIONS
AGAINST MUSLIM REBELS)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: President Arroyo affirmed her commitment
August 15 to the renewed peace process with the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF), despite the involvement of some MILF
fighters in the deaths of nearly two dozen Philippine
soldiers last week in a military operation against terrorists
on Basilan island. President Arroyo’s statements echoed her
July discussions in Washington, where she committed to
undertake a renewed peace process with the separatist Muslim
rebels even as she aggressively pursued shared
counterterrorism goals. Senior Cabinet officials said they
did not expect the deadly incident — in which ASG members
aided by some MILF fighters killed 23 soldiers — to obstruct
the reconvening of peace talks. Government and MILF
negotiators said they were continuing preparatory work on the
creation of an international contact group and the protection
of civilians in conflict-affected areas. The military
commander in charge of the Basilan operation told the
Ambassador August 17 that the government would remain focused
on peace talks even as the military continued to advance in
Basilan and target terrorists on Jolo island. As parties
continue down the path toward peace talks, opinion-makers and
politicians in the aftermath of the Basilan incident have
highlighted MILF’s association with the ASG, calling into
question the rebel group’s commitment to the peace process
and the ongoing ceasefire. END SUMMARY.

WORK FOR PEACE, BUT “WIPE OUT” TERRORISTS
—————————————–

¶2. (C) President Arroyo maintained her commitment to
restarting the peace process with the Muslim rebel group Moro
Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), despite the involvement of
some MILF fighters on the side of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
terrorists in an August 12 military operation on Basilan
island. Twenty-three Philippine Marines were killed in the
early morning operation, mostly in an MILF ambush. Peace
Process Adviser Secretary Avelino Razon indicated that the
peace process would not be affected by the Basilan incident,
a comment echoed by Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro. But
Teodoro also stressed that President Arroyo had instructed
the military to “wipe out” the ASG and other terrorists.
Demonstrating the emotional impact of the military loss,
President Arroyo visited Zamboanga City August 15 to console
the families of soldiers who were killed. Though the
operation was costly in military terms, Philippine military
sources continue to say the fighting resulted in the deaths
of both ASG and affiliated MILF members, possibly including
some high value targets.

PHILIPPINE MILITARY LOOKING AHEAD
———————————

¶3. (C) In an August 17 conversation with the Ambassador, who
was on Basilan and Tawi Tawi islands to launch USAID
development projects and discuss U.S.-assisted
counterterrorism efforts, Western Mindanao Command chief
Major General Benjamin Dolorfino said he was saddened to lose
so many soldiers in one operation, but insisted that the
fight would go on. The military planned to clear out the
ASG-occupied areas of Basilan and was prepared to then move
to the larger neighboring island of Jolo to fight more
significant concentrations of ASG and Jemaah Islamiyah
terrorists. The military had a solid game plan, he
contended, with sufficient troop levels and a good field
commander on the ground. Dolorfino, though focused on
military engagement, agreed that peace talks with the MILF
were vital, and said that it was important to separate the
actions of the rogue groups from the core MILF.

PEACE PROCESS PREPARATORY WORK CONTINUES
—————————————

¶4. (C) An official at the Office of the Presidential Adviser
on the Peace Process told the Embassy August 17 that
preparatory work for peace talks was continuing, unaffected
by the clash on Basilan. Government and MILF peace panels
were preparing recommendations for the remaining two items
outlined in the parties’ July 29 joint statement: the
creation of an international contact group and the protection
of civilians in conflict-affected areas. The government, the

MANILA 00001739 002 OF 002

official noted, would file a formal complaint about the
MILF’s Basilan attack through the Joint Ceasefire Committee,
which was prepared to dispatch fact-finding teams to Basilan
to begin a formal investigation. MILF spokesperson Eid
Kabalu noted that the MILF would also file its own complaint
to the Committee for the military’s “misbehavior” which it
claims caused the deaths of 10 MILF fighters.

PUBLIC OPINION AND OFFICIALS QUESTION MILF’S ROLE
——————————————— —-

¶5. (U) As facts about tQ August 12 Basilan operation emerge,
Manila’s opinion-makers are beginning to raise questions
about the MILF’s role in repelling and ultimately killing
government troops — and are questioning the MILF’s
commitment to the peace process. A hard-hitting opinion
piece in one daily argued August 17 that the complex clan
relationships in Basilan are no excuse for the MILF to ignore
the collusion between some members of the ASG and MILF, which
could impact the peace process: “If you want peace, why
didn’t you prevent the ambush?” Senator Rodolfo Biazon,
going further in remarks to the press, pointedly questioned
whether the peace process could be maintained in its current
form.

COMMENT
——-

¶6. (C) In the aftermath of the bloody Basilan operation, the
peace process machinery shows no signs of slowing down. With
a cautious sense of renewed optimism among both government
and MILF peace panel members, both parties appear to be
moving forward on the work prescribed in the July 29 joint
statement. Still, the latest incident highlights the
difficulties MILF leaders face in controlling their most
independent elements, such as those operating on Basilan. MG
Dolorfino, in his position just over one month, seemed in
command and at ease in his conversation with the Ambassador.
He noted that he hoped to soon place a deputy in charge of
the Sulu Archipelago, though he was facing opposition from
members of the Philippine Congress who charged that his
preferred choice, Brigadier Natalio Ecarma, was too close to
provincial governors there.
KENNEY

   

 

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