Arroyo asks Congress to postpone Muslim elections

Hermogenes Esperon said that the president certified last night an urgent bill on more flexibility in dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Arroyo asks Congress to postpone Muslim elections
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has formally asked lawmakers to speed up legislation postponing elections in Muslim areas in the south to boost talks with muslims, her peace adviser said on Wednesday.

"The president certified last night an urgent bill. These measures would allow the government more flexibility in dealing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)," Hermogenes Esperon told Reuters in an interview.

Manila and the 11,000-member MILF agreed a deal for a homeland for around 3 million Muslims in the south of the largely Catholic archipelago last week, but the agreement is no guarantee of a formal peace deal, which faces many hurdles.

One challenge is that there is an existing Muslim homeland in the southern region of Mindanao, created from a previous agreement with another rebel group in 1996.

Arroyo wants to postpone elections in this six-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) because a deal with the MILF will create a new, larger political structure.

But while her allies in the lower house of Congress have filed two bills seeking the postponment, members of the upper house are opposed to the move arguing that they do not know what has been agreed with the MILF.

"I have asked my colleagues and I am afraid it's impossible to get a consensus when about 80 percent of them don't want a postponement," Miguel Zubiri, a Mindanao-based senator and a close ally of the president, told reporters.

Local officials on Mindanao also want to proceed with the elections and have put up large posters and other campaign materials in preparation for the August 11 polls.

The conflict between Manila and Muslims in the south has killed over 120,000 people since the late 1960s.

"We really need this law because what would we do with those sitting ARMM officials if we could seal a political deal with the muslims in 18 to 24 months. They have a three-year term and we can not just tell them to leave their offices," said Esperon.

Reuters
Last Mod: 30 Temmuz 2008, 14:23
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