UPDATES TO REVERSE BYLINE/DATELINE
By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun and Hader Glang
ANKARA/ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines (AA) - A Turkish member of the body overseeing the Philippines' peace process has highlighted the importance of the incoming president's geopolitical ties, telling Anadolu Agency on Friday that Rodrigo Duterte's background as a mayor in the predominantly Muslim south should help bring rebel leaders to the table.
Huseyin Oruc -- vice president of Turkey's IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation -- told Anadolu Agency that because Duterte is from Mindanao, he has good relations and is friends with both Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leaders.
"The peace process is being handled by meeting every different organization -- the MILF, the MNLF and communist groups -- separately," he underlined.
"What Duterte promised is to bring all these groups together for the discussions and find a permanent peace to Philippines once and for all."
Earlier this week, Duterte -- the Davao City mayor -- said he would fly to the southern Philippines province of Sulu to meet MNLF founder and Chairman Nur Misuari.
Misuari was reportedly left disappointed after some of his leaders were not accommodated in Duterte's three-day schedule for well wishers last week, following his win in the presidential election earlier this month.
"I will find the time but I have to talk to him whether he is available or not. I do not think Misuari wants to travel [because] he is facing charges, which means to say he is a fugitive. This is one of the fronts that we have to talk about," Duterte said in a press conference Thursday.
In September 2013, a group led by Misuari laid siege to the predominantly Christian city of Zamboanga following a MILF-government peace deal, which Misuari claims is a betrayal of an 1996 Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)-brokered agreement, has left his organization short-changed, and granted Muslims in the region lesser autonomy.
The MNLF is internationally recognized by the OIC, but some of its factions are opposed to the ongoing peace process between the government and MILF -- an MNLF breakaway group, along with the Daesh-linked Abu Sayyaf.
Since the 2013 siege, Misuari -- who publicly urged his followers to support the presidential candidacy of Duterte -- has been wanted for rebellion, genocide and crimes against humanity, along with about 60 of his followers.
IHH Vice President Oruc underlined Friday that the MILF has said whoever wants to be in the peace process should be in it, but he added that by involving Misuari it could create problems.
The Misuari faction maintains that the government has not fully fulfilled some of its obligations of its 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF, and that the 2014 deal with the MILF is an abrogation of the 1996 agreement.
The MILF, meanwhile, believes that the current peace deal will be more successful than the 1996 agreement because they say it gives an autonomous entity with powers of far greater political and economic governance than the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao area.
"Only time will show if there is another reason for a president to meet a 'wanted man', rather than just plain forward goodwill," said Oruc. "Maybe the state will eventually grant an amnesty to Misuari for the sake of the peace process."
Earlier Friday, the MNLF raised concerns to Anadolu Agency over Duterte's plans to visit Misuari in Sulu, citing "extremist threats".
Hajib Mujahab Hashim, MNLF Islamic Command Council chairman, said that the MNLF is not in full control of Sulu.
"Somewhere [in Sulu] is controlled by the Abu Sayyaf," he said.
"While it is true that the MNLF could be able to persuade its members [to sign up for peace], the fact is that these [other groups such as the Abu Sayyaf] are extremist groups," he added.
Asked if Misuari was upset about the reported snub by Duterte, Hashim said Misuari had no such problem.
"Brother Nur [Misuari] does not have a grudge with Duterte... he told us 'let us give time to President Duterte because he's busy'."
Outside of the MNLF and MILF, Duterte has also invited the leader of the Philippines communist party to return from exile for peace talks, and has announced an ambitious plan to unite all tribes and religions of Mindanao by stopping the practice of independently labeling its people.
"We have to stop talking about the Moro, the Christians and the Lumads. We can simply call ourselves Mindawon [people of Mindanao]," he said.
"That's what I want in my life before I make my exit."
As for the Abu Sayyaf, Duterte has said he has plans but would only put them into action once he assumes the presidency.
“I have something in my mind but nobody would be privy to that except the military and police. I intend to do it when I am there in the Office of the President,” the Philippine News Agency quoted the tough-talking mayor as saying Friday.
Duterte is set to assume office June 30.