Manila, The Philippines (PRWEB) January 20, 2009
Jonathan Powell and Gerry Kelly, former negotiators in the Northern Ireland peace process, met with Philippine Government officials and representatives of the Mindanao based Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) this week as part of an effort to help restart the dormant peace talks in the region.
The visit was led and organized by the Geneva based mediation organisation, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre) whose Mediation Advisor, David Gorman, is based in Manila.
Mr Powell, also the former Chief of Staff to Tony Blair and a consultant to the HD Centre, and Mr Kelly, a current member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, shared their experiences of their own challenging yet ultimately successful peace process.
"We were trying to find ways of helping the two parties create their own successful route to peace," said Gorman
"In Northern Ireland, the two sides were engaged in centuries of bloody conflict making it one of the most violent places in the modern world per capita. Despite turbulent negotiations and on again off again talks, the parties signed a peace accord finally bringing the conflict to an end. There may be a way to do that in Mindanao too," he said.
Powell, Kelly and Gorman met with key Philippine Government cabinet officials and their negotiating team in Manlia on Wednesday 14 January 2009 and with representatives of the MILF's Central Committee and negotiating panel on Thursday at their headquarters in Camp Darapanan in Mindanao.
Representatives from both parties welcomed the suggestions and conveyed their willingness to restart talks soon. However, the recent kidnapping of three Red Cross workers by armed militants linked to Al Qaeda in Jolo, Sulu, demonstrate the challenges in forging peace in the region.
"Both Kelly and Powell emphasized that the two parties should try to avoid preconditions that cannot be met by the other side. Instead they should help keep each other united otherwise they could end up trying to make peace with multiple groups. Unless they can both and always keep the process alive at all costs it will be very difficult to restart," explained Gorman.
"It was a powerful presentation. The visitors were well received and the response was that they both communicated a desire to resume talks imminently," he said
The Government officials made it clear they wanted the MILF to remain united despite the operations against the three dissident MILF commanders, and the MILF recognized the need to open discussion on the conditions it set for resumption of talks. They were also willing to consider joint and comprehensive demilitarization options at the end of a peace process.
Talks between the two parties broke down in August 2008, followed by fierce fighting that displaced more than 500,000 people and the International Monitoring Team departed.
After serving fifteen years in prison, Gerry Kelly became one of the central figures in Sinn Fein responsible for negotiating what became known as the Good Friday Agreement. Jonathan Powell, who served as Chief of Staff to Tony Blair for thirteen years, led the talks from 10 Downing Street on behalf of the British Government.