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Current Affairs ( 14 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Catholics stay away as Manila retakes land from Muslim rebels

August 14, 2008


MANILA, AUGUST 13: Philippines troops have retaken control of all 15 Catholic farmlands from Muslim rebels after three days of air and ground attacks, army officials said on Wednesday, but none of 160,000 displaced farmers is returning home.


Major-General Armando Cunanan, a military commander in Mindanao, said troops had driven out rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) from villages they had occupied in North Cotabato province.


“Our troops have virtually liberated these areas,” Cunanan told reporters, adding the rebels had been forced to move back to the marshlands or deeper into the mountains in adjacent Shariff Kabunsuan province in the southern Philippines.


“We’re sending our bomb disposal teams to make sure all villages are safe from booby traps and landmines left behind by the retreating rebels.”


The rebels launched their attack last week after the Philippines Supreme Court halted a deal to create a new, larger homeland for Muslims that would give them more autonomy in the resource-rich south.


Muslims in the south of the largely Catholic country have been seeking some form of independence for decades in a conflict that has killed more than 1,20,000 people, but as details of a secretive land deal began emerging last month, Christians took the matter to court.


Cunanan said some of the displaced farmers had been allowed to check their homes and farms, but most of the 1,60,000 displaced farmers were afraid to return. Only around 10 per cent of the displaced are estimated to be in evacuation centres with the rest either camped outside or staying with relatives.


On Wednesday, the UN said it was concerned about a humanitarian crisis. “The Secretary-General appeals for restraint, protection of all civilians as well as access for the provision of speedy humanitarian assistance to the affected population,” the statement read. Most aid agencies have been unable to access the region because of the fighting.


“The Red Cross has finally been able to get in. We’re preparing to feed 85,000 people for the next five days,” said Richard Gordon, the head of the Philippines’ Red Cross.

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Philippine rebels abandon occupied villages



13 August 2008


MANILA, Philippines - Muslim guerrillas, some carrying their dead, withdrew from several occupied southern Philippine farming villages following fierce fighting with government troops that has displaced nearly 160,000 civilians.


Nearly 3,000 troops and police, backed by bomber aircraft, regained control of two occupied villages in North Cotabato province Monday. On Tuesday, army and police found at least six other predominantly Christian villages abandoned out of the remaining 13 that had been occupied by hundreds of Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, police Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio said.


The fierce exchanges of artillery and machine-gun fire that began with Sunday's government assault have eased, but the crackle of gunfire could still be heard in some areas, Serapio said.


At least two soldiers were killed and 14 others wounded. An army spokesman, Maj. Armand Rico, said up to 31 rebels may have been killed, but the rebels said only four of their men died.


‘They cannot withstand the pressure,’ said army Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna, who helped oversee the assaults. ‘They've been beaten black and blue, that's why they are withdrawing.’


The latest flare-up in fighting in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south _ the traditional homeland of minority Muslims _ comes at a crucial time in ongoing peace talks between the government and the rebels, who have been waging a decades-long rebellion for self-rule.


About a hundred retreating guerrillas were seen crossing a river Tuesday in a marshland toward Maguindanao, the predominantly Muslim province where the rebels have key strongholds. A hundred more escaped at night Monday ‘carrying many wounded and dead (in) white cloth tied to tree branches,’ he said.


Troops and police checked some of the abandoned villages for booby traps, and one soldier was wounded when he stepped on a land mine apparently planted by the rebels, Serapio said. They found burned-out homes and looted farms, raising questions of how quickly the many evacuees could return to their normal lives.


‘We could still hear gunfire in some areas,’ Serapio told The Associated Press by telephone from Takipan, an abandoned village in North Cotabato's Pikit farming town.


Social Welfare Secretary Ezperanza Cabral said most of the displaced villagers, estimated at 159,123 in 56 villages, took shelter with relatives. The rest were housed in 33 evacuation centers.


Cabral played down fears of a humanitarian crisis, saying she would supervise the return of residents to cleared villages and farms that remained mostly intact.


The two sides, which signed a 2003 cease-fire, had reached agreement on the size of a future expanded Muslim homeland. But the signing of the accord was halted last week by the Supreme Court, which acted on a petition filed by Christian politicians wary of losing land and power to Muslims.


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Mindanao: Need for a settlement

An Arab News Editorial:

Tuesday 12 August 2008 (09 Sha`ban 1429)


JUST a week ago, the Philippines was on the brink of an honorable end to four decades of bloody rebellion in Mindanao by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Yet yesterday fighting between government troops and rebels suddenly reached an intensity not seen in years and over 130,000 people from communities on both sides were desperately fleeing the renewed conflict.


The trigger for this collapse of good will was the temporary order by the Supreme Court halting the signing in Kuala Lumpur of a peace treaty between the Arroyo administration and the MILF. This would have created an autonomous Muslim area, known as the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). The Supreme Court justices were by all accounts acting fairly. They requested the government and the plaintiffs, two Roman Catholic politicians from Mindanao, to come before them this week to present their cases. Had this been the way the dispute progressed, it might have been only a few weeks before the treaty was finally signed. The MILF, for its part, asserted it was a done deal and although frustrated, indicated that it was prepared to wait. The Arroyo administration said that it was confident that once the arguments were heard in court, the peace agreement would go ahead.


Yet something else happened plunging the region back into violence. MILF fighters in five towns in North Cotabato province were given an ultimatum by the Philippine military to withdraw. When they ignored the ultimatum, they came under air and ground attack from some 3,000 troops. Whether the MILF fighters had any right to be in these places is largely irrelevant. The negotiated treaty provided for a vote among communities to decide if they wished to be part of the new BJE or not. If the MILF were seeking to establish what the Israelis — referring to their illegal West Bank settlements — call “facts on the ground,” then talks would have to be convened to persuade the occupiers to leave. Yet that is not what happened. A deadline was given and when that expired, the Philippines’ army and air force attacked. It is worth wondering on whose orders they acted. It can hardly have been those of the president — the commander in chief of the armed forces, who has invested so much in the peace treaty. The army attacks have coincided with two other alarming developments. One has been the unleashing of anti-Muslim rhetoric by some politicians that a leading media commentator in Manila yesterday characterized as “Christian bigotry.” The second is the rumor now sweeping the capital that the Supreme Court is going to strike down the peace treaty entirely. Given that the case has not yet been argued, this would seem nonsense unless anti-peace treaty politicians are trying to influence the judiciary.


Those who, for whatever reasons, would scupper the deal that creates the BJE should remember that the Arroyo administration acted in the recognition that after 40 years of bloodshed, there was clearly no military solution to the conflict. Nothing has changed that reality. The renewed violence is thus pointless.

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