Who Am I Speaking To?
Forces loyal to Muslim leader Nur Misuari held Filipino peace negotiators hostage after they arrived on a peace mission. A cabinet Undersecretary and a Philippine Marine general were being held as "special guests" at in Panamao, Sulu. According to the Philippine Star. The group identified itself as a "breakaway faction" of an Islamic entity the government was "peace partnering" with. The rebels demanded mediation of their disputes by the Organization of Islamic Countries.
They were being held by the Misuari Breakaway Group (MBG) of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), led by Habier Malik and Khaid Ajibun. The identities of the other members of Santos' group were not immediately known. Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor said President Arroyo instructed the military to handle the situation carefully. Armed Forces chief Gen.Hermogenes Esperon told The STAR that the MBG promised to release the group this morning to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza. Esperon said the incident "has opened a wider understanding of the peace process because they took this opportunity to settle many unresolved issues." But Dolorfino, in a mobile phone interview over GMA 7, said they were not hostages but were "special guests" of the rebels who set as a condition for their release the setting of a definite schedule for a tripartite peace negotiation with the Organization of Islamic Conference or OIC.
This incident dramatically illustrates how difficult it is to negotiate with a networked insurgency, where organizational membership and even international boundaries count for little. For example, the Jemaah Islamiyah is training in Mindanao camps protected under a ceasefire agreement between the Philippine government and the More Islamic Liberation Front. When this fact is pointed out, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front says, 'you can't attack our base areas, we're your partners for peace'! They also solemnly maintain that 'we can't control breakaway factions'. And so the finger pointing and denials go. Advocates of "engaging" sponsors of terrorism must know, as the Filipino peace negotiators learned to their cost, that it is sometimes hard to know who you are talking to.
The hostages have released, but denied they were ever hostages. The Philippine Star has an update on the story.
The group of Marine Maj. Gen. Mohamad Ben Dolorfino and Undersecretary Ramon Santos of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process left the rebel camp in the afternoon and spent about an hour at a Marine base in Lake Seit before being flown by helicopter to the headquarters of the 104th brigade and the Joint Task Force Comet at Camp Bautista in Busbus, Jolo. It was the Misuari Breakaway Group of the Moro National Liberation Front which held them for two days to press for the setting of a definite schedule for a tripartite meeting among the MNLF, the government and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Saudi Arabia.