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Philippines: Government and Muslim Separatist Clashes Stall Peace Process

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Philippines: Government and Muslim Separatist Clashes Stall Peace Process

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The peace process is stalled indefinitely between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), as heavy fighting raged between the two groups in Datu Ampatuan and Datu Piang, in central Philippines. More than 100 MILF rebels have been killed in the conflicts that have driven 130,000 civilians from their homes.

The GRP blames the MILF for starting the hostilities, which have included torching houses, burning automobiles, looting stores and stealing animals of Christian settlers.

The recent fighting began when the GRP halted the implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain, or MOA-AD, that would have given the MILF full autonomy. The government was forced to scrap the deal when Christian groups protested it upon learning that under the agreement, the MOA would also rule over them. Filipino Christians demanded consultation before any autonomy deal could be signed that would affect them.

The Bangsa Moro Juridical Entity would have governed the autonomous areas, granting the region the ability to:

  • Write Islamic laws

  • Operate police and internal security forces

  • Organize banks or other financial institutions

  • Sign free trade agreements with any sovereign nation

  • Elect government officials

  • Create civil services and public education

Vice Chairman Ghadzali Jaafar said, “As far as the MILF leadership is concerned, the MOA-AD is already a done deal. The MILF would not renegotiate even if it means indefinite postponement of the 11 year old peace process” (AFP).

Government soldiers overran more than 15 MILF strongholds while hunting two MILF commanders—Ameril Umbra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar, who lead an estimated force of 500-1000 men—for their involvement in starting the attacks. The GRP administration may soon classify the two commanders as terrorists.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said in a speech, “So I say to the Filipinos; to the world; to our Muslim brothers in the South; to the OIC through our Kuwaiti friends, there is no all-out war. What we are doing, we are doing to have all-out peace in Mindanao. We wish for all insurgents to turn their swords into plowshares, their arms to farms.”

Earlier, the president said that government peace efforts will focus on “authentic consultations with the people,” not on “negotiations with the armed groups” (AFP).

Some civilians have returned to their homes and are planning to arm themselves for self-defense.

An estimated five million Muslims (8% of the population) live in the nation. The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for 11 years for a separate Moro homeland in the natural-resource rich Mindanao region in southern Philippines.

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