World, Asia - Pacific

Duterte set to meet wanted rebel leader to talk peace

Philippines president to speak to Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari during Aug. 12 visit to Basilan

05.08.2016
Duterte set to meet wanted rebel leader to talk peace

Zamboanga

By Hader Glang

ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines 

President Rodrigo Duterte is set to meet with the wanted leader of a Moro rebel group Aug. 12, during his second visit to a southern island province since he took over the presidency, according to a report Friday.

The Manila Standard quoted Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo -- due to accompany Duterte -- as saying the president would speak with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) Chairman Nur Misuari during the visit to Basilan.

The president has repeatedly said he is eyeing to talk with Misuari to focus on building the framework for the Bangsamoro peace process that will include the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

It is the president's second trip to Basilan, since visiting the area July 21 to be briefed on the army's ongoing battle with Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf militants in the area.

Misuari is currently a fugitive, eluding charges filed against him and his men for a siege on the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga in September 2013, in which around 300 people were killed and thousands of houses razed.

The MILF is currently involved in an ongoing peace process with the government, however a faction under Misuari considers the MILF’s 2014 peace deal a betrayal of a 1996 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation-brokered agreement.

Misuari -- who launched the siege on Zamboanga to protest the new MILF deal -- is reported to be hiding in southern Sulu, where he is mingling with people loyal to him and protecting him from the authorities.

Duterte has repeatedly stressed he is willing to give Misuari a safe-conduct pass to start the talks between the government and the Moro rebels.

“When you talk to the rebel, you have to give them a safe-conduct pass, or at least a sense of security to face you and talk to you about what’s bugging the country,” Duterte told reporters on Monday.

“If I won’t talk, how do I fix this thing?”

While in hiding, however, Misuari has been helping the government recover Indonesian sailors abducted by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, according to Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza.

He said Misuari’s lawyers could have his case reviewed.

“The effort is to bring him out of Indanan,” Dureza said.

“The warrant is out and he is considered a fugitive. Any effort to get him out must go through the legal process. It is for his lawyers to initiate a reinvestigation of his case.”

Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.

It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to be paid for their release.

In March and April of this year, the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 17 Indonesian sailors who were later freed although it was not clear if ransoms were paid.

Two Canadians, however -- kidnapped on Samal Island resort in Davao del Norte in September 2015 with a Norwegian and Filipina -- were beheaded after ransom deadlines passed.

The Abu Sayyaf group freed the Filipina hostage unharmed in June but has kept the Norwegian captive.

The group is still holding Malaysian seamen and Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, and Philippine citizens.

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