Oct 222014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/05/08MANILA1212.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1212
2008-05-21 09:33
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO9443
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1212/01 1420933
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 210933Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0760
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANILA 001212

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2018
TAGS: PREL PINS KISL RP
SUBJECT: MILF VICE CHAIR FOR MILITARY AFFAIRS SUPPORTS PEACE NEGOTIATIONS

REF: A. MANILA 455 (AMB URGES MILF CHIEF TO REJECT
TERRORISTS)
¶B. MANILA 1021 (AMB AND FOREIGN SECRETARY DISCUSS
PEACE PROCESS)

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

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Meeting in a remote base camp in the
southern Philippines May 9, DCM urged the Vice Chairman for
Military Affairs of the Muslim insurgency to persevere with
the peace process and remove remaining terrorists from its
territories. The Vice Chair stressed the Muslim insurgency’s
opposition to terrorism and desire for successful peace
negotiations. The Vice Chair also requested U.S. help to
convince the Philippine government to sign the draft peace
document now under consideration. The Vice Chair worried
that neither side could control all commanders if
international monitors depart. (Malaysia pulled out most of
its International Monitoring Team members May 10 due to lack
of progress in negotiations. ref B) If fighting breaks out,
he continued, the Muslim insurgency will have a clear
conscience, having tried its best for peace. The Vice Chair
welcomed the DCM’s visit with enthusiasm, recalling the
history of U.S. engagement in Muslim southern Philippines, as
well as a letter from EAP Assistant Secretary Kelly in 2003,
on behalf of President Bush, that acknowledged “legitimate
grievances” of Muslims, and President Bush’s speech to the
Philippine Congress in 2003 admonishing the Muslim insurgency
to sever ties to terrorists. This meeting provided a
first-hand insight into the Vice Chair, who has been
variously characterized as opposed to peace negotiations,
disaffected from Moro Islamic Liberation Front leader Murad,
or essential in keeping insurgent military commanders under
control. END SUMMARY.

¶2. (C) Vice Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MIF) Aleem Abdulaziz Mimbantas invited DCM, on the mrgins
of the Ambassador’s meeting with MILF Chairan Murad Ebrahim
last February 21 (ref A), to viit his camp in the Lake Lanao
region of Muslim Mndanao. DCM, DATT and A/RSO were greeted
May 9 ith a red carpet and honor guard at the remote Cam
Bushra, located on the south side of Lake Lanao n the
municipality of Butig. The camp also servs as a meeting
place for the joint MILF-governmet ceasefire committee.
Inside, Mimbantas introdued 20 military commanders and
another 20 provincal leaders before inviting DCM to a
private meeting. The Philippine police, who provided
security for the DCM’s delegation, were permitted to enter
the camp perimeter.

——————
Opposing Terrorists
——————-

¶3. (C) In a one-on-one meeting attended by an interpreter,
Mimbantas said he and Chairman Murad were pleased with the
DCM’s visit, and passed regards to Ambassador Kenney. He
recounted the history of Muslim oppression at the hands of
Spanish colonialists, which ceased under American military
occupation in the early 20th century, only to resume when
Americans began “Filipinizing” governance of Mindanao in the
1920s. Former Chairman of the MILF Salamat Hashim wrote to
President Bush in 2003, seeking U.S. support for peace
negotiations with the government of the Philippines.
Mimbantas reminded that the response from then-EAP Assistant
Secretary Kelly included the acknowledgment of “legitimate
grievances that must be addressed.” Mimbantas said he was
convinced that America could help conclude the negotiations.

¶4. (C) Mimbantas also recalled President Bush’s admonition
during his state visit to the Philippines in 2003 that the
MILF should sever all ties to terrorism. “We oppose
terrorism, and when we have control over Muslim territories,
there will be no possibility of terrorist operations,”
Mimbantas assured. DCM acknowledged MILF actions,
particularly in 2005, to remove terrorists from MILF areas.
(Note: several significant terrorists resettled in 2005 on
Jolo Island, outside of MILF areas, where they operate to
this day.) However, DCM continued, foreigners, and some
Filipino Muslims, continue to take advantage of MILF
territories to conduct bomb training and actual bombing
operations that have killed and injured many Muslims and
Christians in Mindanao. Some MILF commanders are not doing
enough or appear complicit, even if MILF policy opposes such
activities. As an example, DCM cited Abdul Basit Usman, who
lives openly in the 105th base command led by MILF Commander
Umbar Kato. Mimbantas listened carefully, and responded that
“this person you mention” had been discussed in private

MANILA 00001212 002 OF 003

meetings with MILF Chairman Murad, Chief of Staff Sammy
Gambar, and Mimbantas. Mimbantas said he thought something
was being done about Kato, but had not heard recently. DCM
said that we would welcome the opportunity to have quiet
discussions about other individuals of concern, noting
Ambassador Kenney and he had made the same suggestion to
Chairman Murad.

————————————–
Muslim Grievance and the Peace Process
————————————–

¶5. (C) Mimbantas’ central message was that the MILF wanted
peace and that America could help convince the government to
sign a peace agreement. He recounted Spanish oppression of
Muslims in the Philippines, which ended with the American
occupation, only to begin again when the Americans
transferred local governing authorities to Philippine
Christians in the 1920s. Mimbantas handed DCM a copy of the
1935 petition signed by Muslim local leaders asking the U.S.
President not to include Mindanao in the promised independent
Philippines, but instead to maintain U.S. sovereignty until
the Muslims would be ready to govern themselves.

¶6. (C) Mimbantas expressed apparently genuine concern that
the imminent departure of Malaysian members of the
International Monitoring Team would lead to more violations
of the government-MILF ceasefire. Neither side may be able
to control its fighters without a referee, as was the case
before the Malaysians’ arrival in 2004, Mimbantas said. If
fighting broke out, the MILF would have a clear conscience,
Mimbantas continued, since the MILF had tried its best with
the peace process. DCM reiterated U.S. support for a
negotiated peace, and encouraged Mimbantas to persevere with
the peace process.

————————-
Letter for the Ambassador
————————-

¶7. (C) Mimbantas handed DCM a remarkably well written letter
from him to Ambassador Kenney, which made the following
points (entire text faxed to desk):

— Reiterated deep appreciation for the response on behalf of
President Bush to the letter from late Chairman Salamat
Hashim which said, “The United States recognizes that the
Muslims of southern Philippines have serious, legitimate
grievances that must be addressed;”

— Thanked the USG for its efforts to bring peace and
development to Mindanao;

— Stressed that the political nature of the problem requires
a political solution. “Poverty, underdevelopment . . . are
consequences of the political injustice . . . of illegal and
immoral annexation of our homeland . . . . ;”

— Pressed for negotiations. “(I)t is to the advantage and
best interest of all domestic and foreign stakeholders in
Mindanao that the Bangsamoro problem be finally resolved
through the present GRP-MILF peace negotiation . . . . A
failure to sign a comprehensive peace agreement with the MILF
at this time may engender extreme frustration and
irreversible hopelessness . . . that would result in
radicalization of a significant number of Muslim youths . . .
. ;”

— The MILF is “a legitimate revolutionary organization, a
liberation movement, fighting to redeem what is legally and
historically ours. The cause we are fighting for is not
dissimilar to the cause for which the founding fathers of
your nation established the United States of America.” The
MILF is not a terrorist organization, “as we condemn and
oppose all forms of terrorism that victimize innocent people
. . . .;”

— “It is necessary that local and international pressure be
applied on the reneging party to comply with the mutually
agreed consensus points and agreements and move on until a
final and just political settlement is reached. It is in
this context that we need the United States to do its part.”

——————————————— –
U.S. Assistance, Chinese Influence in Mindanao
——————————————— –

¶8. (C) Vice Chairman Mimbantas clearly reiterated MILF
policy to welcome all U.S. humanitarian and development

MANILA 00001212 003 OF 003

assistance in Mindanao. His statement was identical to what
we have heard from Vice Chairman for Political Affairs
Ghazali Jaafar. Mimbantas added, however, that “the people”
object when the U.S. military, rather than civilians, deliver
U.S. assistance. While the MILF supports all assistance, the
people’s sensitivities must be respected, he concluded.

¶9. (C) Mimbantas expressed strong concern over what he said
is a large number of Chinese interested in buying economic
assets in Mindanao. He worried that the government was not
sufficiently careful in preventing the Chinese from buying
important assets, such as those in the steel, cement, and
power sectors. Muslims are happy to deal with Christians,
Jews, and other Muslims, but not “godless Chinese,” he said.

——————————–
Atmospherics and Biographic Data
——————————–

¶10. (C) After the 40-minute one-on-one meeting, Mimbantas
invited DCM and delegation to join MILF military and civilian
leaders in a friendly, informal traditional lunch. The
interpreter for the DCM’s meeting was medical Dr. Safrullah
Dipatuan, whose titles include Chief of Staff to Mimbantas,
Deputy Chairman of the Bangsamoro Development Agency, and
member of the government-MILF Ad Hoc Joint Action Group,
responsible for coordinated anti-crime efforts. During the
DCM’s meeting, DATT and A/RSOs conversed with MILF military
and civilian leaders, leading to easy and informal
conversation over lunch. Other key MILF officials present
included Central Committee member Bobby Alonto, commander
Jannati Mimbantas (brother of Vice Chairman Mimbantas), and
MILF liaison officer Acmed Lao. A warm farewell followed
lunch and the delegation departed.

¶11. (C) Despite his title of Vice Chairman for Military
Affairs, Mimbantas appears foremost to be the leading
representative of the Maranao ethnic group (as opposed to the
Maguindanao ethnic group of MILF Chairman Murad). In other
ways, Mimbantas defied stereotypes. He portrayed a close
relationship with Chairman Murad, noting that he had
discussed DCM’s visit with Murad the previous day. (During
the Ambassador’s visit to Murad’s camp, Mimbantas sat next to
Murad.) Mimbantas seemed genuinely interested in the success
of peace talks. He described his role in the MILF’s military
structure as responsible for policy, whereas Chief of Staff
Sammy Gambar directly supervised MILF commanders. Mimbantas
related that when MILF Chairman Salamat Hashim died in 2003,
Murad, who was at that time Vice Chairman for military
affairs and concurrently military Chief of Staff, tried to
convince Mimbantas to become Chairman. After several weeks
of discussions, Mimbantas said he succeeded in turning the
tables so that Murad would become Chairman.

—————
Biographic Data
—————

¶12. (C) Mimbantas was born and raised in Masiu, a town on
Lake Lanao near the Butig camp. He spent 10 years at
Al-Azhar University in Egypt, returning to the Philippines in
1974 to take up the Muslim fight. Apologizing for his
halting English, Mimbantas said he speaks Arabic better than
his Maranao mother tongue, having received his bachelors
degree in Arabic literature. He speaks English reasonably
well, but slowly and self-consciously, and understands much,
but not all. Mimbantas farms coffee and other crops, as he
said many MILF commanders do. He lives a four-hour hike up
the mountains, at Camp Cararao, from the site of the meeting
with the DCM. He has two wives, 13 children and many
grandchildren, several of whom live at Camp Cararao too.
While he used to hike by foot, his age requires him to use a
horse to reach his home camp, which receives cell phone and
television signals. He said he travels to the Camp of
Chairman Murad and to other MILF commands as needed, but
clearly spends much of his time at his own camp. Mimbantas
seemed to genuinely look forward to the opportunity to visit
Manila, which he said was impossible for him now. Like many
other MILF commanders, he appeared to want to wrap up with
some satisfaction a cause to which he dedicated his entire
life; hence, his support for a negotiated peace. The
question is whether the government and the MILF can agree on
the terms of the peace.

KENNEY

   

 

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