Thousands Flee in Southern Philippines as Violence Spreads
Clashes between Muslim rebels and Philippine troops forced about 15,000 people to flee their homes as violence spread in the nation’s south, complicating efforts to bring peace to the region after four decades of insurgency.
At least 10 people have been killed during four days of fighting between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front rebels, who hold about 100 hostages in several parts of Zamboanga city, police and military officials said. Armed men also attacked the city of Lamitan in Basilan province, a boat ride from Zamboanga, wounding three soldiers, police provincial director Senior Superintendent Mario Dapilloza said.
President Benigno Aquino sent more troops to contain the MNLF guerrillas. The violence coincides with the resumption of peace negotiations with a separate rebel group, threatening government efforts to end an insurgency that has killed about 200,000 people and stifled development in Mindanao.
The spreading violence “is a reflection of the inability of the Aquino administration to come up with a much more inclusive approach to creating peace in Mindanao,” said Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila University. “What is needed is an expanded table of negotiation.” The MNLF and its founder, Nur Misuari, are not involved in the government-led peace talks.
Different rebel groups were attempting to take advantage of the situation in Zamboanga, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in an e-mailed statement. Two other groups were behind the attack on Lamitan with the army in pursuit after a two-hour firefight, he said. “Let it be clear to those defying us that they should not entertain the illusion that the state will hesitate to use its forces to protect our people.”
Soldiers are keeping a tight cordon around areas in Zamboanga besieged by rebels, military public affairs chief Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala told ABS-CBN by phone. The military supports negotiations with rebels loyal to Misuari, Zagala said.
“This is just a glitch” in efforts to promote peace and development on Mindanao island, where Zamboanga is located, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary-general Crisanto Frianeza said in an interview. “We’ve been through several crises before and we have recovered.”
The government will ensure the views of the MNLF and Misuari are considered during the crafting of a law to create a new autonomous region in Mindanao, Teresita Deles, Aquino’s spokesman on the peace process, told reporters in Manila yesterday. She spoke a day after peace talks between the government and another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resumed in Kuala Lumpur.
“Somebody felt neglected and they’re armed. They wanted to call attention to themselves,” John Forbes, a senior adviser at the American Chamber of Commerce, told reporters yesterday in Manila. “From the point of view of investors, the government must complete the negotiations taking place in Kuala Lumpur.”
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