Monitors upbeat hardline rebels won’t stop Philippine peace

Government of the Philippines (GPH) chief negotiator Miriam Coronel Ferer shake hands with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal (R) as they exchange peace agreements between both parties at the GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talk in Kuala Lumpur January 25, 2014.

MANILA - International monitors observing Philippine government talks with Muslim rebels expressed confidence Friday that efforts to end one of Asia's bloodiest and longest insurgencies will survive derailing attempts by hardline guerrillas.

Smaller factions opposed to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's impending peace deal with Manila lack the following to block the process despite repeated acts of violence, the monitors told a news conference.

The observers, who have been sitting at protracted talks that concluded last month, also cited a strong commitment to peace by both Manila and the MILF, and growing popular support.

"Both parties realised from the beginning that there will always be parties who disagree... who take their disagreement to the point of trying to disrupt the process," the monitoring group's chairman Alistair MacDonald said.

"But as far as seeing widespread support for such views, we have not seen that," said MacDonald, a retired European Union ambassador to the Philippines.

"What are their (the hardliners') numbers? 200? 500? That is a drop in the bucket."

The 12,000-strong MILF is set to sign a comprehensive peace agreement in late March to share power in the southern part of the largely Christian Philippines, ending decades of armed rebellion to set up an independent Islamic state there.

The rebellion has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives, mostly civilians.

A small MILF splinter group that still wants independence, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, has continued to attack government forces there as well as court support from MILF members.

Followers of Nur Misuari, founder of the MILF's rival guerrilla faction the Moro National Liberation Front also attacked the southern port of Zamboanga in September last year in an effort to wreck the talks, leaving more than 220 people dead.

MacDonald said he saw no signs that MILF fighters were defecting to the hardliners.

The more the peace process moves forward, "the less there will be an opportunity for the spoilers to throw sand in the wheels", he added.

Another monitoring team member, Huseyin Oruc meanwhile warned spoilers could also crop up from the government side, disrupting the passage of laws needed to implement the peace deal.

The key piece of legislation would be an organic law that President Benigno Aquino wants passed by next year authorising the creation of a Muslim self-rule area in the south.

Oruc, an official of Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a Turkish aid group, urged Filipinos to publicly support the impending deal.