Philippines: Risk of fresh violence puts IDPs in danger
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||5 April 2010|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Philippines: Risk of fresh violence puts IDPs in danger, 5 April 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4bc2ccfbc.html [accessed 19 December 2014]|
MANILA, 5 April 2010 (IRIN) - Muslim separatists waging a bloody insurgency to carve out an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines are warning of fresh violence after rejecting an offer for limited autonomy from the government.
The warning comes 20 months after fighting forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes on the island of Mindanao.
The leadership of the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has filed a complaint with the independent ceasefire monitoring committee - a mechanism established by both sides - about what it claimed was "scores of uncoordinated and unusual movements" by government forces in areas under rebel control.
"I do not want to sound alarmist, but I cannot discount the possibility of hostilities if they continue with the movements. That is the probable consequence because we have people operating in those areas," MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal told IRIN from his base in Mindanao.
"This is an alarming development and what is for certain is that the fresh military movements appear to have the backing of the highest echelons of the armed forces," he said.
Army activity, he said, was monitored shortly after MILF rejected last month's government offer of limited autonomy in exchange for the rebel forces abandoning their insurgency which began in 1978.
MILF deemed the offer unacceptable because it went against its aim of self-rule and self-determination.
Peace process "stalled"
"The peace process has stalled. It is not moving forward," MILF's Iqbal said, as he ruled out the possibility of ever signing a deal with the government of Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, who is constitutionally mandated to end her six-year term on 30 June.
"We cannot discount the possibility that there could be resistance similar to 2008."
Large-scale fighting broke out between the two sides in August two years ago, after the Supreme Court in Manila rejected a proposed government-MILF deal that would have given the rebels control over 700 villages and municipalities on Mindanao which they claim to be their "ancestral domain".
The document had been initialled by both sides, but was questioned by nationalist groups and Christian leaders on Mindanao whose areas were included in the deal.
At the height of the fighting, which spread across central Mindanao triggering a humanitarian crisis, over 750,000 people were displaced.
Nearly 400 people have been killed in the conflict, with scores more injured.
Some 11 months later, however, both sides agreed to a ceasefire, and re-opened back door negotiations in a bid to allow the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their ruined villages.
In its last update (July 2009) on the number of IDPs, the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) said over 300,000 people remained in 500-plus evacuation centres on Mindanao, while nearly half a million were staying with relatives or friends.
Those returning now, however, face the risk of fresh clashes, despite "an agreement in principle" from both MILF and the government that combatants from both sides will not be targeted, and that they will refrain from fighting in areas where there is a large concentration of civilians, Iqbal said.
Meanwhile, regional military spokesman Lt-Col Randolph Cabangbang said from his base in the south that additional troops had been sent to the area to help police serve arrest warrants on an armed group wanted for a string of crimes.
He denied troops had intruded into MILF areas or so-called peace zones, but warned that the army will strike back if ambushed.
"Definitely we have forces in those areas conducting patrols," Cabangbang told IRIN. "However, I don't think it's a violation of anything. The ceasefire is still holding for now, as far as we are concerned."
He said tens of thousands of IDPs have returned to their villages since late last year, but could not say how many people were still in the camps, calling figures by aid groups "misleading".
"Many of these so-called IDPs have gone back to their homes, but they return to the camps to take advantage of food and other basic items being handed out," Cabangbang said, noting that the situation was no longer as grim as before.
Cabangbang said the presence of a 60-man Malaysia-led international peacekeeping mission which returned to the south in February was expected to be able to maintain peace in the south.
The mission pulled out at the height of the 2008 fighting, but returned amid fresh hopes that the bloodshed would finally end.