Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is Peace in Philippines Possible?

The BBC has the following story about a peace deal in the Southern Philippines between the government and the largest rebel group seeking an independent Muslim state. In broad terms this looks like a good thing, any peace deal which results in the an end to armed conflict has to be supported, plus this region should have a greater share in the disposal of it’s natural resources. However, there are elements to deal which at first glance give some pause for thought.

Firstly, although this is a majority Muslim area it is not a completely Muslim one, there are a number of Christian villages, and communities here. Are there safeguards in place for them? Secondly, whilst it is good that the MILF is seeking to negotiate as opposed to engage in armed struggle what of other Muslim rebel groups also active in this area? International Christian Concern is reporting threats made against churches, Catholic priests and bishops in Mindanao, as well as the extrotion and kidnapping of Christian villagers in the Sulu Archipelago.

Philippine government negotiators say they have reached a deal witha Muslim rebel group to expand an autonomous region in the south of thecountry.

Villagers affected by the plans will be asked to vote within 12 months on whether they want to join the new area.

A larger autonomous region is something the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has sought for decades.

The Philippine president’s peace adviser said a framework agreement could be expected early next month.

“A breakthrough has been achieved in the issue of ancestral domain…tonight, with the signing of a joint communique,” said Hermogenes Esperon.

The BBC correspondent in Manila, Michael Barker, says Monday’s announcement is being seen as a major step forward.

Earlier this month both sides agreed to an expansion of theregion, but the deal appeared in doubt as they could not agree on a time frame.

Just last Saturday, there were reports that the Malaysian-brokered talks had collapsed.

But negotiators now say these differences have been ironed out.

Fragile truce
The long-running Islamic insurgency in the south of the country has cost some 100,000 lives.

The MILF is the largest of several Muslim separatist groups battling the government in the predominantly Catholic country.

Formal talks between the government and MILF began in 2003,after the rebel group, which is thought to have around 11,000 members,signed a fragile truce with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’sgovernment.

The new agreement envisages the extension of the present autonomous region in Mindanao to include a further 712 villages.

The proposed homeland will be entitled to a large share of the resources in the area.

The new region would expand on an autonomous territory that wasoriginally created in a deal with another Muslim rebel group, the MoroNational Liberation Front (MNLF).

From here. Please pray for the Philippine Islands to find a peaceful settlement. I lived there as a child as hold a special fondness for the Filipino people.

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