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Mindanao violence serves no purpose
Publication Date : 17-09-2013
The Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels should step back and reactivate an existing truce before tackling wider issues concerning autonomy
For the sake of the people of Mindanao, both the Filipino authorities in Manila and the Muslim rebel leader Nur Misuari and his followers need to do some soul-searching and rethink the logic of prolonging their animosity. The insurgent violence that has taken place in the southern Philippines over the past 40 years has achieved nothing except to take the lives of mostly innocent people.
More than 100 were killed, wounded or captured in the latest violence and stand-off between government forces and the MNLF in the southern city of Zamboanga.
The MNLF under Misuari has been confronting government troops since early last week. The rebels have taken 170 hostages and used them as human shields in battles with the security forces. Some of the captives have managed to escape.
The violence erupted while the government in Manila is in peace talks with another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Both sides have so far observed a truce forged last October, but that peace agreement might be affected by the current violence.
Misuari and his MNLF are no strangers to the authorities in Manila. Founded in 1969, this group signed peace agreements with the government first in 1976 and then in 1996. However these truces collapsed because the rebel fighters wouldn't lay down their weapons and accused the government of dishonouring the peace pact, as well as failing to develop an autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao.
The MNLF has international recognition, with observer status in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Some of its previous peace talks with the Philippine government have been mediated and facilitated by the OIC.
Unfortunately, the group has broken into several factions. One faction broke away to form the MILF, and later signed a peace agreement with the government.
Misuari might feel that he is being left out in the cold, but there could be other unknown reasons behind the latest round of violence. He opposed the peace deal between the government and the MILF, insisting that genuine peace can be achieved only with the full implementation of the 1996 truce terms.
To Misuari's disappointment, the government's deal with the MILF is almost similar to that signed with the MNLF in 1996, notably including a plan to establish the autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.
In July, Misuari declared an "independent Bangsamoro Republik" and appointed himself chief of the Bangsamoro armed forces. A plan to raid Zamboanga was intercepted by the government before the stand-off, according to local media reports.
Rather than resorting to armed confrontation, the authorities in Manila and the MNLF should get back to examining what happened in 2011 and last year to work out how and why the 1996 peace agreement fell apart.
One of the key concerns is the sharing of wealth. If Manila was able to reach a deal with the MILF on this issue, why can it not come to any similar conclusion with the MNLF?
Misuari should also ask himself what is the purpose of this latest episode. If the 1996 truce was previously workable, how can renewed violence achieve anything?