Indonesia Offers to Mediate in Philippine Standoff

With a deadly siege ongoing in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga, Indonesia says it is ready to assist in any effort between Manila and the rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front to reach a peaceful solution.

Presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah noted on Wednesday that Indonesia and the Philippines were both founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and neighbors with a strong bond, and that Indonesia had a duty to help create peace in the region.

He said that Indonesia had been working to mediate between the Philippine government and the MNLF regarding their standoff in Zamboanga City, which has claimed more than a hundred lives since Sept 9.

"We are more than willing to be part of any peace efforts in the southern Philippines," Faizasyah said in an interview with the Jakarta Globe. "As a neighbor we have a duty and interest in making the Philippines more peaceful."

The offer for assistance comes after the Philippine military launched air strikes on MNLF positions in Zamboanga on Monday, following last weeks forced evacuation of residents.

About 100,000 people have been displaced so far.

In a previous statement released by the Indonesian Embassy in the Philippines, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa made a similar offer of assistance

"The government of Indonesia is always ready, at the request of stakeholders, to contribute appropriately to the restoration of conditions in the southern part of the Philippines," he said.

"A peaceful solution is the only option that should be taken by both parties," the minister added.

Marty said that an agreement reached in 1996 bound both sides to resolve disputes in a peaceful manner.

Indonesia currently chairs the Organization of Islamic Conference Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (OIC-PCSP) and played a pivotal role in the previous peace talks between the government of the Philippines and the MNLF, which led to the signing ofthel996 peace agreement between the two sides.

The strong diplomatic and economic ties between Indonesia and the Philippines explain the formers offer to assist in "any peace efforts" in the southern Philippines, according to analysts.

The willingness of Indonesia to act as a facilitator has also shown that the country is portraying itself as a peacemaker while working to increase its influence in the region, analysts said.

"Indonesia is in the best position to mediate on this issue and contribute to regional stability," said Aleksius Jemadu, dean ofPelita Harapan Universitys School of Government and Global Affairs.

As prominent members of Asean that share common interests within the region, Indonesia needs to take the lead in encouraging peace talks between the MNLF and the Philippine government, Aleksius said, "because otherwise [the current Philippine conflict] may threaten the security of the entire region."

However, the failure of the 1996 peace agreement in preventingbloodshed brings into question whetherlndonesiaisaviable mediator on this issue.

Faizasyah acknowledged that although Indonesia was not able to "assess the implementation of the agreement," he said he was confident that Indonesia was ready to play the role of mediator once again.

Aleksius added that "the failure [of the 1996 peace pact] should not discourage Manila and Jakarta from pursuing a peaceful resolution to the conflict This is a sensitive issue for the Philippines and Indonesia alike and Indonesia should play a vital role like it has in the past"

The Philippines and Indonesia haveenjoyed 63 years of fruitful economic and diplomatic relations and are working hand-in-hand to explore ways to cooperate to combat terrorism and other transnational crimes within the region.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has previously expressed the countrys readiness to assist the Philippine government in peace talks with Islamic separatist groups such as the MNLF.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has helped Indonesia in negotiations with its own rebels, for instance serving as a monitor during the Aceh peace process in 2005.

However, Indonesias attempts at promoting a peaceful solution come amid an escalating conflict

Following the government"s recapture of 70 percent of the areas occupied in Zamboanga by separatist rebels, a rebel commander told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that his men were prepared to die fighting and that he did not see the possibility of a peaceful end.

If s getting difficult, but we should try to do something. I think Indonesia still has a chance and must continue to play a role," Aleksius said.

As of Wednesday, the Philippine government had yet to respond to Indonesias offer of assistance.( Jakarta Globe)