President Benigno S. Aquino III welcomes Kingdom of Norway Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Ferner during the presentation of credentials at the Music Room of the Malacañan Palace on Thursday (November 27). (MNS photo)

President Benigno S. Aquino III welcomes Kingdom of Norway Ambassador to the Philippines Erik Ferner during the presentation of credentials at the Music Room of the Malacañan Palace on Thursday (November 27). (MNS photo)

MANILA, Feb 14 (Mabuhay) – Despite the bloody clash between government troops with Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters and other armed groups in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao last January 25, Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende assured Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario that Norway remains fully committed to the peace process in Mindanao.

In a press statement on Saturday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said Brende expressed his condolences to the families of the victims in the Mamasapano clash, which left 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force troopers and 18 MILF fighters dead.

The DFA said Brende expressed hopes that the pursuit of peace in Mindanao would continue despite the recent tragedy.

For his part, Del Rosario thanked Brende for expressing sympathy to the victims of the Mamasapano bloodbath. The DFA chief also expressed appreciation for Norway’s role in the International Monitoring Team (IMT).

Norway is a member of the IMT for the Philippine Government-MILF peace talks and sits as vice-chair of the Independent Decommissioning Body (IDB) in charge of the decommissioning process of the MILF forces and arms.

It is also the third-party facilitator for the peace talks between the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front.

Del Rosario assured the Norweigan official that the Philippines will continue its efforts to fully implement the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, while “being fully committed to finding justice for the slain police officers.”

Maritime sector

Meanwhile, Del Rosario also relayed the government’s appreciation for Norway’s technical assistance in ensuring the country’s maritime education and training institutes meet the standards required by the International Convention on Standards of Timekeeping, Certification and Watch-keeping (STCW Convention).

“This [assistance] has resulted in the continued recognition of Philippine-issued licenses and certificates by the European Union (EU), a requirement for Filipino seafarers for employment as officers in EU-flagged vessels,” the DFA statement said.

“With over 25,000 Filipino seafarers on board Norwegian-owned and -managed vessels, Minister Brende noted that it was in the common interest of both countries to continue efforts to achieve adequate progress in meeting STCW requirements,” it added.

Both foreign ministers also expressed satisfaction with the progress of the proposed free trade agreement between the Philippines and the European Free Trade Association (PH-EFTA FTA).

The two officials also agreed to strengthen cooperation in multilateral organizations, including mutual support of candidatures in the United Nations.

Also, the DFA said that in earlier bilateral consultations, Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Zeneida Angara Collinson and Norwegian Director General Tore Hattrem agreed to strengthen relations in the energy sector, disaster risk reduction, water, social security and law enforcement.

Norway is home to about 18,000 Filipinos and Filipino-Norwegians. (MNS)