Gerry Kelly, Jonathan Powell and the MILF | Belfast and Beyond | 13 Jan 2009 | Amnesty International UK

Gerry Kelly, Jonathan Powell and the MILF

You read it here first. Sort of…

Back in August I speculated that deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could soon find himself in the Philippines aiding the search for peace in the Mindanao region of the country between the government, local (government-armed) militias and the unfortunately-acronymed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

This followed pledges from UK Ambassador Peter Beckingham to bring out politicians who could share the lessons of the Northern Ireland 'peace process'.  

“The Philippine government have assured me this week that they would value visits from Northern Ireland to discuss such issues as decommissioning of arms, as well as the political process."

“As Northern Ireland demonstrated clearly international involvement and support can help tip discussions towards a peace agreement."

Instead of the Sinn Féin deputy leader, it's junior Minister Gerry Kelly, who will find himself in Manila today, alongside Tony Blair's one-time Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell.

Kelly, of course, is no stranger to international travel, having been part of an IRA unit operating across Europe following his escape from the Maze prison in 1983 and also travelling to Colombia in 2004 to assist fellow republicans jailed there.

What Kelly and Powell will find in the Philippines is a conflict which dwarves that of Northern Ireland's recent history with four decades of violence, which, as Amnesty has recently reported, has claimed the lives of an estimated 120,000 people, displacing some two million and impoverishing the resource-rich region.

Peace talks hit the buffers last August with a resultant up-turn in severe violence, leaving scores dead. The visit by Kelly and Powell, organised by an independent NGO, is part of efforts to re-establish negotiations.

For the sake of the people of this region, I wish their mission well.

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