New JICA head meets Muslim leaders in restive Mindanao

Kyodo

Akihiko Tanaka, the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s newly appointed head, has met with government and rebel leaders in the southern Philippines to pledge Japan’s continued support to resolving the decades-old conflict on Mindanao.

On Tuesday, Tanaka met separately with Mujiv Hataman, governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and the vice chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has waged a long-running Muslim separatist campaign in the area, to assure them of JICA’s continued support for achieving peace in the Bangsamoros region on Mindanao and adjacent islands, and to assist in their future development.

It is Tanaka’s first overseas visit as president of Japan’s international aid agency, after assuming the post April 1.

“JICA is willing to support the Bangsamoros for as long as it needs our assistance,” Tanaka told Hataman at his office in Cotabato City.

After meeting inside the rebel’s administrative camp with their vice chair, Ghadzali Jaafar, Tanaka stressed the importance of resolving the conflict to reporters, saying that reaching a peace accord would allow all parties to “proudly say to the world that this region is in a state of peace.”

Jaafar said the JICA chief’s visit sent the Bangsamoro people a strong “message of confidence” that the international community is not ignoring their plight, while a rebel military commander said he hoped Tanaka’s visit would result in even greater assistance from Japan for Muslim Filipinos.

After meeting with Hataman and Jaafar, Tanaka inspected a JICA-funded skills and livelihood training center for Muslim women outside the rebel camp.

JICA has for years funded programs aimed at creating a conducive environment for achieving peace on the Philippines’ second-largest island, and resolving a conflict that is estimated to have displaced more than 100,000 locals.

The 12,000-strong rebels are currently in talks with Manila to establish a substate of Bangsamoro and finally end their campaign.