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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Indonesia, Pakistan and Cambodia back Aquino peace stance

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Asian leaders have thrown their support behind President Aquino's peace engagement with the Moro separatist rebels and communist insurgents.

Aquino earned the backing of leading political leaders of Pakistan and Indonesia, which are largely Muslim countries, and Buddhist Cambodia when they called on him in MalacaƱang on Friday.

“Carpe Diem! Seize the moment,” was the message of Pakistani Sen. Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a leader of the political opposition in Pakistan, to Mr. Aquino.

At a press conference in Makati on Saturday, Sayed reiterated it. “This is the time and I think that President Aquino has seized the moment and we will ensure that the moment, the initiative, remains in his hand, and we are right behind him to push this forward.”

Sayed, Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia Sok An and former Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, along with former Speaker Jose de Venecia, met with the President at the Palace to laud him for simultaneously pursuing peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Maoist New People's Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Although there was no formal invitation for Muslim nations to broker the peace process, Sayed said, "We endorsed his initiatives for peace within the Philippines—the discussion with insurgents in Mindanao and of course with the NPA.”

Sayed is a member of the Commission of Eminent Persons of the powerful Organization of Islamic Conference and secretary general of the Pakistani Muslim League.

He is seen as an opposition presidential contender should the Pakistani government call for fresh elections to end the political stalemate there.

He said Pakistan, which he described as a “leading Muslim country,” shared the “strategic convergence with the government and people of the Philippines for the resolution of this issue concerning the Muslims of the Philippines. So we endorse wholeheartedly the peace process initiated by President Aquino.”

The officials held an informal meeting later Friday with former President Fidel Ramos and Vice President Jejomar Binay at the residence of De Venecia in Forbes Park, Makati, following the wedding of De Venecia’s son, Joey, to Karen Batungbacal.

At the meeting, which lasted way past midnight, both Binay and Ramos welcomed the help of the Centrist Asia-Pacific Democrats International (CAPDI) in the Philippine peace process.

Binay is set to write President Aquino to formally invite CAPDI to help, in whatever capacity, in the peace process since there has been no formal invitation from MalacaƱang to do so.

“Our formal presence has to be the result of an invitation because we cannot intervene unilaterally,” said De Venecia, who wanted CAPDI "to make itself available on request."

CAPDI is a high-level alliance of ruling and opposition political parties in Asia, business leaders, civil society and academe. CAPDI, whose forerunner was the Centrist Democrats International Asia-Pacific, was formally founded in Dec. 2010 in Phnom Penh.

Its leaders are skilled in conflict-resolution and international diplomacy.

Sayed said the Philippine government must also welcome Malaysia and Qatar's help.

“Qatar has clout also as a rising Muslim country with a lot of oil revenues. So you see, there's a lot of back- up from Muslim countries and this back-up would help... the government of the Philippines in pushing this process forward,” said Sayed.

“It will bring the Muslim world and the Philippines closer together, and we welcome this,” he said, adding, in effect, that the President was in the best position with his immense political capital and popularity here and abroad to end the Mindanao conflict and insurgency.

“Dialogue is the essence of democracy. The Philippines has a very dynamic democracy. We always looked up to Cory Aquino… in 1986. In the Third World, the Philippines has been a role model on how a peaceful transformation can take place through the exercise of people power,” he said.

Kalla currently chairs CAPDI, while Sok An and Sayed serve as vice president and secretary general, respectively.

“Kalla successfully negotiated the Aceh conflict in Indonesia,” said De Venecia. Sok An and Hun Sen helped engineer the resolution of armed conflicts in Cambodia.

De Venecia is the founding chair of CAPDI, while both Ramos and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen play the role of chair emeritus.

Leaders in Asia have much respect and admiration for Mr. Aquino due to the legacy of his late mother, People Power icon Corazon Aquino, said Sayed.

"Talking to President Aquino, I found him a good guy, a sincere person and a very straightforward person. I think he means what he says," said Sayed, when asked about his thoughts about the chief executive.

"We feel that this is the 21st century. A lot of these conflicts are holdover from the past. It's time to have a better tomorrow. And that new beginning is essential for not just the Philippines (but) for Asia, the Muslim countries and communities," said Sayed.

In the Makati meeting, Sok An said that the Capdi officials decided to form a peace commission with headquarters in Phnom Penh “to be given an institutional back up and support of leaders who have experiences in mediation, negotiation and in conflict resolution.”

The priority is the peace mission to Nepal to be followed by a dialogue between leaders of India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue, said De Venecia.

Sayed urged Mr. Aquino and the rest of Asia facing internal conflicts to negotiate peace without U.S., British or Western intervention.

"If the 21st is to be an Asian century, the resurgence, rise and rejuvenation of Asia are inexplicably intertwined with the quest for peace, security and stability in those parts of Asia who are prone to violence, conflict and instability. Hence, we link development with peace. This linkage which something which the country will capture,” said Sayed, adding that Asians should learn to make peace on their own.

“This is the Asian century. We should do it on our own," he said.

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No reinforcement of Thai troops along Thai-Cambodian border

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Jan 8 -- Despite ongoing tension between Thailand and its neighbour Cambodia following the recent arrest of seven Thai nationals, Thai forces on the Surin provincial border have not been reinforced, said Second Army Region commander Lt-Gen Thawatchai Samutsakorn on Saturday.

Gen Thawatchai, responsible for security affairs in Thailand's Northeast, said no violence had been reported at Prasart Ta Muen Thom, and the peoples of both countries still visit the historic ruins.

Ta Muen Thom ruin sits on another of many disputed areas along the border, and lies in Surin province and Cambodia’s northern Uddor Meanchey province.

His remarks were made after seven Thais, including MP for Bangkok Panich Vikitsreth from the ruling Democrat party and Thai Patriots Network leader Veera Somkwamkid, were arrested by Cambodian soldiers as they inspected the border area in Sakeo province on Dec 29.

The court in Phnom Penh finished the first hearings for all seven Thai detainees on Thursday. The seven faced two charges -- one of illegal entry into the Cambodian kingdom, with assigned punishment of three to six months of imprisonment and deportation, while the other involved trespass into a Cambodian military area without permission, punishable by a three to six months jail term and Bt7,500-15,000 in fines.

No date has been set for the court ruling.

Gen Thawatchai said Thailand's present number of troops along the Surin border is sufficient and they are prepared to perform their duty so it is unnecessary to boost their number.

In response to concern that more serious violence might follow the border arrests, Gen Thawatchai said he did not believe there will be more violence. In any case, the final ruling will be made by the Cambodian court and the Thai authorities could not intervene.

He said the Thai Foreign Affairs Ministry may discuss with the Cambodian government to secure their return home after the final verdict is made. (MCOT online news)
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Russia mounts land, air and sea searching for trawler in Far East

Two boats, a helicopter and 14 land vehicles are searching for a trawler last heard from off the coast of Sakhalin in Russia's Far East, a regional emergencies spokesman said on Saturday.

The Cambodia-flagged Partner, which has a Russian crew, issued a distress signal on Friday when it was near the western coast of Sakhalin. It had been fishing in the Tatar Strait between the island and the Russian mainland.

"A Mi-8 helicopter from the Sakhalin company Aviashelf is conducting aerial reconnaissance in the area where the distress signal was issued. There are two ships combing the area where the distress signal was issued," the Sakhalin Region Emergency Situations Ministry official said.

The search began on Friday but there has been no sign of the vessel. The land searchers, numbering 74 people, are scouring the western coast of Sakhalin for rafts that may have saved the crew. It is thought that there were up to 14 Russian citizens on board the vessel.

"There are no roads to the coast in the search area, so the operations involve an all-terrain tracked vehicle. The ground-search group includes a doctor. They have warm clothes and food for the fishermen, if they are rescued," the emergencies spokesman said.

Russian fisheries officials said on Friday that the trawler was owned by the Belize-registered company SGI. An October 2010 record listed the captain as Sakhalin resident Alexei Maltsev and said there were 11 crew.

Shipping in Russia's Far East has been beset by problems due to bad weather in recent days and weeks, with icebreakers dispatched to the Sea of Okhotsk, north and east of Sakhalin, to rescue several vessels trapped in sea ice up to two meters thick.

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