Britain to send experts to help peace talks in Philippines


Manila : Britain will send experts to the Philippines to advise government and Muslim rebel negotiators on key issues like disarmament in a bid to move forward stalled peace talks, British officials said Saturday.

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The British experts previously handled peace negotiations in Northern Ireland, said British Ambassador Peter Beckingham and visiting British Foreign Office Minister for South-East Asia and the Pacific, Meg Munn.

Beckingham said both the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have agreed that such an assistance would be helpful in moving the negotiations “along the right direction”.

“They said they’d welcome someone who could talk about what happened in Northern Ireland because there are similarities,” Beckingham said. “One of the key areas in Northern Ireland was the de- commission of weapons and (their) handover.”

Peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF have been suspended since September 2006 over disagreements on how to set up a proposed Islamic homeland in Mindanao and other related issues.

Beckingham said there are “three or four people from Northern Ireland and in Britain who would certainly have the background and the experience” to help the Philippines and the MILF in the peace negotiations.

He said an agreement forged between Britain and the Philippines Saturday would pave the way for the involvement of British experts in the peace process in the troubled southern region of Mindanao.

The agreement was signed after Munn discussed the assistance with top Philippine officials Friday.

Munn said the assistance does not mean that Britain was getting impatient over the slow progress of peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF.

“If you look at the process in Northern Ireland, it actually took a very long time to negotiate a peace deal,” she said.

She added that the British experts will have experience and competence to help in the peace negotiations.

“They know what’s important in moving peace forward,” she said. “They’ve got a peaceful situation in Northern Ireland now and they’re prepared to share their experience.”

The signing of the US-brokered Good Friday Agreement in 1998 marked the unofficial end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, where a low intensity civil war took the lives of more than 3,000 people.

The agreement enshrined the principle of consent that Northern Ireland would remain part of Britain unless and until the citizens of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland both vote for a united Ireland.

It also called on Protestants to share political power with the minority Catholics, and contained provisions on disarmament, policing reform, human rights, prisoners and demilitarisation by British armed forces.