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Cablegate: Dcm Pushes Peace Process in Mindanao Visit

DE RUEHML #2308/01 1900854
O 090854Z JUL 07





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: DCM Pushes Peace Process in Mindanao Visit

Ref: MANILA 594

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: DCM and emboff visited the Cotabato area of
Mindanao for the fourth time on June 20 through 22 for private
meetings and public diplomacy to continue to build support for the
peace process and prepare for the Ambassador's visit of July 9-10.
In a private meeting with MILF Vice-Chair Ghazali Jafaar, DCM
emphasized that the "time is now" for the MILF and the government to
make the tough compromises on a peace agreement, and for leaders of
all of Mindanao's diverse communities to come together to define
Mindanao's future governance (septel). DCM repeated this message in
private meetings with Cotabato Mayor and MNLF Secretary General
Sema, 6th Infantry Division Commander Ferrer, and local government
and civil society leaders. He conveyed the message publicly at
three separate inaugurations of USAID projects, attended by local
leaders and the media. DCM visited two ongoing projects by the crew
of the visiting USS Peleliu working hand-in-hand with the Philippine
Armed Forces -- a new schoolhouse and a MEDCAP offering free medical
care in remote villages outside Cotabato. DCM received briefings
and showed U.S. support for a successful local conflict management
mechanism in a region of recent fighting over land disputes
(septel). He called on the Malaysian-led International Monitoring
Team, which monitors the ceasefire with the MILF. At all events,
DCM offered assurances that U.S. support, as well as private sector
development, would grow further when the missing piece of an MILF
peace agreement is put into place. END SUMMARY.

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The Military Perspective

2. (SBU) In a relaxed, intimate one hour discussion, DCM and 6th
Infantry Division Commander Major General Raymundo Ferrer discussed
the prospects for peace, together with the commander of the U.S.
JSOTF detachment in Cotabato. Ferrer suggested that JSOTF would
gain further acceptance and access among local Muslims if it were
seen as working together with the Malaysian-led International
Monitoring Team. He privately lamented the enormous political
power, wealth and arms of the local Muslim Ampatuan clan, which
complicated the prospects for peace. In a subsequent one-on-one
meeting with Brigadier General Ed Gurrea, who co-chairs the
Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, DCM heard
similar views. (Comment: Generals Ferrer and Guerrea are just two
examples of experienced, peace-advocating commanders placed in key
Mindanao positions by the Philippine Armed Forces. End Comment) DCM
paid his third office call on the Malaysian-led International
Monitoring Team headquarters in Cotabato, underscoring U.S. support
for its mission and receiving an updated briefing of the activities
of the 60 person military monitoring team, which also includes
representatives from Brunei and Libya as well as a development
official from Japan.

--------------------------------------------- -------
Development and Humanitarian Assistance
Helps Create Environment for Peace
--------------------------------------------- -------

3. (U) The DCM inaugurated three USAID assistance projects in two
Central Mindanao provinces and the city of Cotabato. A CLIC
(Computer Literacy and Internet Connection) event at a rural school
perched on rolling agricultural land in the ethnically mixed
province of North Cotabato celebrated the receipt of internet access
via microwave dishes and donated computers for some 250 students who
had previously little contact with the outside world. A ribbon
cutting for a water system nearby MILF headquarters in Shariff
Kabunsuan Province was attended by local Muslim residents, a newly
reelected congressman, and media. Muslim school children, dancing
in native attire, and a marching band greeted the U.S. visitors at
Notre Dame Elementary school in Cotabato city, where 130 school
principals and parent teacher presidents had traveled great
distances from across Central Mindanao to receive a total of over
125,000 donated text books. At each of these events, DCM
underscored our shared interest in the development and success of

4. (U) The DCM visited two of the USS Peleliu's projects (part of
the Pacific Partnership) in remote villages outside Cotabato City.
At the ENGCAP in Datu Andung, U.S. and Filipino soldiers were
constructing a new elementary school room, while intrigued local
residents watched the progress. Down the road at the local high
school, DCM and party visited hundreds of grateful local residents
receiving free medical, dental, and veterinary care and supplies
from doctors and medical staff of the USS Peleliu working side by
side with Filipino volunteer doctors, nurses, and interpreters.

--------------------------------------------- -
Pushing Peace Through Local Leaders
--------------------------------------------- -

MANILA 00002308 002 OF 002

5. (SBU) In separate, private meetings with Abhoud Lingga of the
Institute of Bangsamoro Studies and Ishak Mastura, Secretary for
Trade and Industry of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, DCM
discussed how to reconcile differences among the diverse and
fractious Muslim, Christian, and native Lumad communities of western
Mindanao. He sought to dispel notions that the U.S. was only
interested in neutralizing terrorists and overcoming poverty,
allegedly neglecting the need for political resolutions to Muslim
grievances. While Lingga questioned the value of U.S. JSOTF
soldiers in Central Mindanao, Mastura offered unconventional praise.
He expressed belief that local cooperation between JSOTF and the
Philippine Armed Forces, as well as U.S. support for Philippine
Defense Reform, gave Philippine Forces the confidence to avoid
hard-line tactics that alienated local populations and undermined
the peace process. He added, however, that few local residents were
sophisticated enough to recognize this benefit.


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