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Philippines: 70,000 People Flee As Muslim Rebel Declares Jihad In Sulu

Philippines: 70,000 People Flee As Muslim Rebel Declares Jihad In Sulu

Author: AKI
Publication: Adnkronos international
Date: April 16, 2007
URL: http://www.adnki.com/index_2Level_English.php?cat=Security&loid=8.0.405031742&par=0

At least 70,000 Muslim civilians in the southern Filipino province of Sulu were displaced due to fighting between a faction of former rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the army. Abdul Wasan Mohamad, provincial social welfare and development officer in Sulu, told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the number may increase as six towns were affected in the ongoing fighting that began when a group of MNLF forces, under leader Habier Malik attacked a Marine base near Panamao, on 13 April. Eighteen people, including two soldiers and a civilian, were killed in the incident.

"Non-government organizations and government agencies have provided evacuees with relief goods and medicines. But if the fighting continues, more and more civilians will be displaced," Mohamad said.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has asked the military and MNLF to stop the fighting. Reports said the OIC proposed the creation of a small military monitoring mission in Sulu province.

But Jesus Dureza, Filipino president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's peace adviser, said that although they welcomed the concern of OIC, the army will undertake punitive action against Malik's forces. Dureza asked the leadership of MNLF to take appropriate steps and deal with the criminal acts perpetrated by Malik.

"Unless decisively addressed by the MNLF leadership, this latest incident will pose as an additional challenge in our peace engagement with the MNLF," Dureza said in statement.

MNLF deputy chairman Hatimil Hassan told reporters they would respect the appeal of the OIC.

"We have directed Malik's group on the ground to silent their guns. We support the appeal of OIC to cease from further hostilities and resolve the matter in peaceful means," Hassan said.

On 13 April, Malik declared a jihad, or holy war, against Manila and fired rockets on the positions of government security forces near Panamao. His action followed an attack by the army on an MNLF camp in nearby Indanan town, last week.

Analysts say that Malik's attack is also due to frustration over the continuous postponement of the scheduled tripartite talks with the Manila, MNLF and the OIC.

In the past, Malik has been on record questioning the sincerity of the government in implementing the 1996 peace accord.

Commenting on the recent development with AKI, Sol Santos, Asia coordinator for the South-South Network (SSN) for Non-State Armed Group Engagement, said that the recent fighting could also be due to "rogue military commanders who want to get at the MNLF, contrary to higher-level policy guidelines."

The MNLF, established by Nur Misuari in 1968, was a mostly secular group that fought for an independent state for Muslims in Mindanao. It eventually laid down its arms and accepted a limited autonomy, signing various peace agreements with the government.

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