* Govt welcomes court’s move as Catholics protest territorial deal
MANILA: The Philippines Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on Monday and halted a territorial deal between the government and Muslim separatists, the latest setback for peace in the nation’s volatile south.
The agreement between Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, was to be signed in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday after more than 10 years of negotiations. The government, whose commitment to a permanent political solution for the south has sometimes been questioned, said it welcomed the court’s move. “I feel this is a relief,” said Jesus Dureza, the spokesman of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, adding, “It’s a good opportunity for some issues to be threshed out.” The deal was meant to formally re-open peace talks to end a near 40-year conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, displaced 2 million, and kept the most resource-rich region of the country dirt poor.
Under the territorial agreement, an existing autonomous region for Muslims in the south of the largely Catholic country would be widened and they would get broad political and economic powers. But the agreement’s hasty conclusion on the eve of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s annual state speech last month and its generous provisions to the MILF on mineral wealth prompted some analysts to dismiss it as political window dressing. “I think it was all teed up as a bone on the eve of Arroyo’s state of the nation address. I think it was strictly done for that purpose,” said Scott Harrison, managing director of risk consultancy Pacific Strategies and Assessments. MILF officials, already in Malaysia for the signing ceremony, were dismayed at the Supreme Court move. “I don’t know what will happen next,” Mohaqher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator, told reporters.
Catholics protest: Meanwhile, thousands of Catholics demonstrated in two southern Philippines cities on Monday against a government deal giving Muslims more territory and broad political and economic powers in the region. “Do not build a Berlin Wall among the people in Mindanao,” Celso Lobregat, mayor of the mainly Catholic city of Zamboanga on the southern island of Mindanao, told a crowd of around 10,000 people, many wearing red shirts to show their opposition to the deal.
Church bells peeled and businesses shut for the protest. An archbishop and a local tribal leader, wearing traditional headdress and loincloth, sat beside Lobregat during the rally. “We are also for peace. We don’t want the creation of an area based on religion, an area that would segregate us. Christians and Muslims have been living in peace and harmony together in our city,” said the mayor. reuters
Source: Daily Times, Pakistan