Philippine - Violence broke out in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao last week between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and a group of government militiamen.
This has resulted in at least 20 deaths and sending more than 1,000 people fleeing.
The fighting which took place around Shariff Aguak town sends worrying signals on the potential impact on the Malaysian-brokered peace talks and the three-year-old truce which the Muslim rebel group had accused soldiers of violating by firing 20 howitzer rounds at guerrilla positions.
“The military continued shelling our position despite the presence of an international monitoring team…many families have fled their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire,” said Eid Kabalu, spokesman for MILF. Mr Iqbal, the chief peace negotiator of the MILF warned the confrontation could adversely affect peace talks between the government and the rebel group. “The skirmishes affect the peace talks to a certain extent” he said but was confident that the fighting would end soon.
According to the government, “the overall peace and development process in Mindanao has been unimpaired by the recent spate of clashes, which are localized in the areas where law enforcement operations are ongoing,” said presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye. He added that the “military, police, MILF-government joint ceasefire committee and international monitors continue to manage the situation in the spirit of cooperation, fair play and adherence to common objectives.”
The Philippine National Police (PNP) had accused and linked two MILF commanders involved in the recent Shariff Aguak bombing to the Dec 18, 2003 bombing in Maguidanao which killed 18 civilians. The matter will be brought before the Adhoc Joint Action Group and peace panel.
According to a MILF official, the leadership of MILF is watching the development very intensely to study the implications on its struggle in Mindanao. “This development is very disturbing and reflective of what the Arroyo regime might do to the MILF in case the ongoing peace process will not succeed or stall indefinitely,” said Muhammmad Ameen, chairperson of the MILF secretariat.
At the moment, a group from the International Monitoring Team (IMT) is now in Shariff Aguak town to put a stop to the armed conflict.
President Arroyo opened the peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, the country’s largest separatist rebel group fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern region since 1978. The talks were stalled in May over issues of the size and wealth of a proposed Muslim homeland.
Clashes between MILF and militia intensify: 21 dead (The Manila Times, 1 July 2006)
21 killed as armed clash in Maguindanao continues (Sun Star, 1 July 2006)
International group intervenes to stop Maguindanao clash (Sun Star, 2 July 2006)
Police links rebel officials to Maguindanao explosion (Sun Star, 2 July 2006)
MILF files protest vs. military for ‘violating truce’ (INQ7 Net, 1 July 2006)
Philippines fights, talks with Muslims (Bangkok Post, 2 July 2006)
Two-day battle rage in southern Philippines (Bangkok Post, 1 July 2006)
Hundreds flee fighting in Philippine south (Reuters, 30 June 2006)
Muslim rebels say Philippine army breaks truce (Reuters, 1 July 2006)