MANILA, Philippines, Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Eid Kabalu, a leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, urged participants at an international peace convention Saturday in the Philippines to support the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Mindanao, the Philippines' southern island.
The conflict between the MILF and the Philippines government has lasted since the 1970s and cost an estimated 120,000 lives. The parties resumed talks last Tuesday and Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after a 16-month hiatus in what has been a 13-year peace process.
Some Muslim participants were not hopeful of the outcome.
"After four decades we decided to try a new approach to peace in Mindanao," Estrella Babano, Department of Education director for the northern Mindanao region, told the conference.
"The focus has to be on future generations."
The Mindanao Peace Initiative, launched in September 2008, was designed to address what she said was the lack of a common platform among the various religious, ethnic and social groups in Mindanao. It promotes cooperative projects among those groups across 17 social sectors, from education to sports, and religion to the armed forces.
On Monday, participants are to visit one of the education projects, a "Peace Village" in Lanao del Norte. There Muslim and Christian students share a camp experience and learn about each others traditions.
Professor Mehmet Rizal Dalkilic said he is skeptical of what the Kuala Lumpur talks can achieve by themselves.
"I gave up hope for a political resolution after August 2008," he said. That was when a peace accord between MILF and the Philippine government broke down on the verge of being signed when the Philippines Supreme Court rejected key elements of it as unconstitutional. The collapse of the talks triggered a wave of MILF attacks that killed several thousand and displaced 250,000 people in central Mindanao.
Dalkilic, a Muslim, is critical of both the MILF and the government. "The MILF does not represent the Muslims of Mindanao," he said.
He is the chief consultant on Islamic education for the committee on higher education of the predominantly Muslim Autonomous Region of Mindanao. He has developed a curriculum for the 65 colleges in the region that integrates a peace curriculum into Islamic studies.
He said he finds the government response to this work often frustrating. "For us to be recognized do we have to have guns?" he asked Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He said the government rarely acknowledged the hundreds of non-governmental organizations working with both Muslims and Christians.
Dalkilic also works with the teachers at the 500 or so madrassas -- Islamic religious schools -- in the region. He promotes a curriculum the stresses the spiritual aspects of Islam rather than a political message.
In this he said he sees himself engaged in an ideological war with Wahhabi Islam teachers, men who received religious training in Saudi Arabia for several years. When they return to Mindanao they teach a version of Islam that calls for an independent Islamic state on the island and tells believers they must fight to achieve it.
The Global Peace Convention drew together 500 peace activists from 28 countries. Hyun Jin Moon, the chairman of the convention, is also chairman of News World Communications, which owns UPI.
The convention focused on the role of interfaith initiatives, youth activities and service projects in conflict resolution and peace building.