Philippine Muslim rebel negotiators told American diplomats that their group could Balkanise the south if pushed and had been urged to conduct assassinations, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front also urged the United States to conduct a 'parallel dialogue' with them to push stalled peace talks forward, Leslie Bassett, who was the charge d'affaires at the US embassy in Manila, wrote in February last year.
The cable, marked classified and confidential, was released last week by WikiLeaks.
Yesterday, chief rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal confirmed that he was at a dinner on February 24 last year, detailed in Bassett's report. He confirmed that the topics had veered to assassination, Balkanisation and parallel dialogue with the US.
Balkanisation refers to fragmentation or division of a region or state into smaller regions or states that are often hostile or non-cooperative with each other.
The report quoted rebel peace panel member Michael Mastura saying: 'We can still make trouble and Balkanise the area. Please do not allow us to do that.'
Iqbal confirmed that Mastura had said that. However, Iqbal said: 'The MILF does not threaten. It's just a statement of fact. The meaning of that message is that there must be seriousness in talks.'
The cable also reported that 'while Mastura said others had urged the MILF to pursue political assassinations of [former] president [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo's executive secretary Eduardo Ermita and North Cotabato province Vice-Governor Manuel Pinol, the MILF does not assassinate, even if it loathes the influence of these individuals who 'have made a career' out of opposing peace in Mindanao'.
It said 'the flow of the conversation did not allow Poloff [political officer Michael Pignatello] to interject and explicitly voice opposition to the notion of assassinations, but everyone present seemed clearly to understand the US would find such acts abhorrent'.
Iqbal confirmed his rebel group had been approached to conduct assassinations. 'That's a fact, but nothing of that sort has happened. We are not resorting to that. There is no programme [to assassinate].'
When he was asked to confirm the rebel group's request for parallel dialogue with the US, Iqbal said the dinner was already 'part of a parallel dialogue, because we have been in touch [with US officials]'.
Iqbal confirmed Bassett's report that he had implored the Americans to 'listen to how we feel. The Filipinos are the rulers and we [Moros] are slaves. It is a lopsided relationship'.
Both rebel negotiators worried over how negotiations would turn out under the next Philippine president since the dinner was held during a presidential campaign. Mastura recalled a member of then Senator Benigno Aquino's campaign had asked him if Aquino should have a policy on the peace process.
Bassett wrote: 'Unimpressed, Mastura replied, 'It's too complicated for Senator Aquino to understand'.'