COTABATO CITY - The Mindanao peace process is more important than the Sabah issue, and the forthcoming talks in Kuala Lumpur should push through as scheduled.
This was the declaration made by MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal as he described the conflict in Sabah as a "non issue" when asked by reporters if the on-going conflict between Malaysian security forces and followers of the Sultanate of Sulu will be discussed when formal talks resume later this month.
"I don't think it would be raised in the formal talks," he said. "It's a non issue, we would not hear that."
Iqbal likewise confirmed that there have been suggestions made that the peace talks should be postponed in light of the escalating violence in Sabah.
He said that they have received "some ideas from unscrupulous persons who wanted to tie up the negotiations with the Sabah standoff" about a week ago.
"I don't want to give more details because this could create another problem," Iqbal stated. "It's not formalized but we can feel it. There are so many players. After all this has not come from the other side, from some other people."
"I cannot name names at this point in time, it's a sensitive issue," he added. "I told them this is more important than what is happening in Sabah. If you're trying to relate the peace process with the Sabah standoff then you are trying to destroy the situation."
But what is important, Iqbal emphasized, is that the issue of postponement did not come from MILF.
"For us, it's all systems go," he stressed.
During the resumption of the formal talks, Iqbal expressed optimism that they would be able to "wind up with the more substantive issues" particularly on the issue of sharing of power.
"I think we could manage to settle that," he said.
The peace talks are scheduled to resume in Kuala Lumpur from March 25 to 27.