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The road to recovery for more than 100,000 displaced in Zamboanga will prove a long one

Posted by African Press International on October 4, 2013

MANILA/ZAMBOANGA,  – The road to recovery for more than 100,000 displaced in Zamboanga will prove a long one, aid workers say, following a recent siege by Muslim rebels of the p ort city on the southern island of Mindanao

“Rehabilitation will take a minimum of three months from now – that is the fastest,” Philippine National Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang told IRIN. “But actually, it may reach six months to a year before we are able to fully rehabilitate those places and move them [the inhabitants] back.”

“This is the devastating reality for the population of Zamboanga. Apart from losing their homes, many have also lost their livelihoods. They will have to rebuild from scratch, and we [aid agencies] will have to prepare to respond for long-term displacement.”

Her comments follow an announcement on 28 September by the Government of the Philippines declaring an end to the security crisis almost three weeks after it began, although sporadic fighting and final clearing operations were still continuing on 1 October.

“Humanitarian Crisis”

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), more than 106,000 people remain displaced on the southern island of Mindanao, after fighting between government forces and armed rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) broke out on 9 September in protest against ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF splinter group.

The two sides are negotiating for the creation of what is envisioned to be an expanded autonomous region for Mindanao’s Muslim population that would supersede the one handed to the MNLF, a development that Nur Misuari, its founder, and a number of fighters oppose.

Of the displaced, 102,401 are housed in 38 evacuation centres, many of them schools, while 3,641 remain with families and friends.

Heavy urban combat had brought the city of nearly a million at a standstill over the past few weeks as more than 4,000 troops tried to crush the rebel force, which abducted dozens of people and used them as human shields. Fighting also spread to the nearly island of Basilan, where MNLF sympathizers attacked government forces to divert the attention of the military.

Over 10 percent of the city’s population was displaced by the fighting, the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported, while thousands of livelihoods have been shattered.

An estimated 46,000 people’s jobs were lost or disrupted due to the conflict (15,000 workers in the canning industry, 4,800 in the plywood industry, 20,000 fisher folk and 6,000 jobs in the public sector), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on 1 October.

10,000 homes destroyed

Entire sections of the areas seized by the rebels have been razed, with more than 10,000 homes completely destroyed. This was confirmed by satellite imagery prepared at the request of OCHA to map the humanitarian fallout.

At least 140 people, mostly MNLF rebels, are now confirmed dead in the fighting, the Philippine Army reported, with close to 300 wounded and injured.

The damage is currently estimated at US$4.6 million, but privately officials say the real figure is much higher.

In response, deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said operations had already shifted to rehabilitation phase, with work now concentrating on how to provide some semblance of normalcy to those who have lost everything.

“The key challenge will be housing,” Valte said. “Continuing relief is already programmed, but rebuilding the homes that were totally destroyed could take some time.” Philippine President Benigno Aquino had already set aside funds for the building of 10-unit bunkhouses as “transition shelters”, she confirmed.

However, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the prospects for the displaced was “looking very grim”, while the UN has described the situation as a “humanitarian crisis”.

One family’s plight

Carpenter Santos Pareno, 55, a father of three, will be forced to take his family back to the city of Lamitan, a mixed Muslim-Christian community across the Basilan Strait to Basilan Island, where he still has relatives.
“We left Lamitan a long time ago to live a quiet life in Zamboanga, but the war came looking for us,” he said as he and his family huddled under a temporary tent made from discarded tarpaulin at the Jose F Enriquez sports stadium, the biggest of the evacuation centres where, over 70,000 people now live.

“The children will have to go back to school in Lamitan, but our small boat has been destroyed and we don’t have any belongings,” he said. A distant relative in another part of Zamboanga has agreed to take them in temporarily by mid-October. “Until that happens, we will be living on dole-outs. We want to leave this place, but there is nowhere to go.”

aag/ds/he  www.irinnews.org

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Caught in crossfire

Posted by African Press International on September 14, 2013

Black smoke rises as a cargo plane with relief goods arrives

ZAMBOANGA,  – Authorities in the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga under siege from rogue Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks have ordered the “forced evacuation” of thousands of villagers as negotiations to end the standoff falter.

President Benigno Aquino flew to Zamboanga city on the southern island of Mindanao to personally assess the situation, five days after 100 to 200 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels encroached on six coastal villages, triggering heavy fighting that has left at least 14 combatants and civilians dead and dozens injured.

Up to 180 residents have reportedly been taken hostage and are currently being used as “human shields” to prevent a full-on military assault.

The number of displaced has swollen to more than 16,000 people, currently housed in 13 evacuation centres in the city, including in the main sports complex where many slept on the ground, the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development reported, as a momentary lull in violence allowed trapped residents to flee. The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN humanitarian agencies and the US government have rushed aid to the those in need.

“I urge all parties involved to respect and protect the rights of the civilian population, provide special attention to women and children, and avoid unnecessary human suffering by reaching agreement to end the standoff,” Luiza Carvalho, the Humanitarian Coordinator, said on 13 September.

Caught in crossfire

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 136,000 people have been affected by the violence. A curfew is in place from 8pm to 5am.

All schools and almost all shops are closed, with only essential government offices open. The government and humanitarian partners have provided food packs, tents and non-food items and a mobile storage unit. An emergency hospital facility was established by the government for the displaced. An unknown number of people also remain trapped in affected coastal villages, unable to reach evacuation centres in the city.

Urgent needs of the evacuees include food, water, tents, bedding, cooking utensils and hygiene kits, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) reported.

Thousands have been caught up in the decades-long insurgency

Fighting rages

Hundreds of elite Philippine troops have been closing in on the gunmen, and sporadic clashes punctuated by powerful explosions from rebel mortar fire reverberate for miles around the city.

“Negotiations have been conducted by the Crisis Management Committee for the safe release of hostages and to end the armed conflict between the breakaway MNLF group of Nur Misuari and the government forces,” according to a resolution, passed by the city government and signed by mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, ordering the forced evacuations.

“After a series of negotiations with the breakaway MNLF group of Nur Misuari, the peaceful means to end the hostage crisis and armed conflict failed,” it said.

MNLF forces on nearby Basilan Island, across the sea strait from Zamboanga, also attacked government targets there in a bid to divert military attention. They were backed by two other Muslim militant groups, underscoring the volatility of the southern region, where decades of Islamic insurgency has left many parts vulnerable.

Aquino assured the public that the “overwhelming” presence of troops in Zamboanga would be able to contain the fighting in only the affected villages and that normalcy would resume soon.

“We want to make sure that there is no unnecessary loss of lives,” he said. “Preservation of life is the paramount mission.”

He also hinted that the government wanted to exhaust all peaceful means to end the crisis, even as he said a calibrated military response was in place from day one.

Decades of insecurity

Misuari founded MNLF in the early 1970s to fight for an independent Islamic state in the south, which Muslims consider their ancestral home. The long-running insurgency has led to a proliferation of other armed gangs and a black market of unlicensed guns that contribute to the region’s instability.

Misuari dropped his independence bid and signed a deal with the government in 1996 for the creation of a Muslim autonomous region, where he was subsequently made governor. But Manila later dubbed the region a “failed experiment” and said millions of dollars in development aid had been lost to corruption.

The government is now negotiating with the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF splinter group, for the creation of what is envisioned to be an expanded autonomous region that would supersede the one handed to the MNLF, a development that Misuari and a number of still-loyal fighters oppose.

An estimated 150,000 people have died in one of the region’s longest-running insurgencies, which has left the southern mineral-rich island mired in poverty.

aag/ds/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Inventory of MILF weapons needed – Liberal gun ownership could impede disarmament

Posted by African Press International on August 15, 2013

What will it take for these MILF fighters to put down their arms?

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Decommissioning body” to determine future of MILF weapons
  • Inventory of MILF weaponry needed
  • Liberal gun ownership could impede disarmament
  • MILF would rather take over security than disarm

COTABATO/ACEH,  – The Philippine government and Muslim rebels in Mindanao are inching forward in peace negotiations aimed at ending a long-running insurgency, but the toughest negotiations are likely to centre on how to disarm thousands of insurgents, officials and analysts say.

After months of stagnating peace talks, both sides agreed on a wealth-sharing deal in July that will give the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) powers of taxation, as well as a “profitable” share of mineral deposits by 2016 in a proposed autonomous region MILF would govern.

The deal gives MILF 75 percent of all the earnings derived from metallic mineral exploitation, half of all natural gas and oil revenues and the right to levy taxes on businesses operating in the area. It can also receive funding directly from donors, rather than going through the central government.

Presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles said the government wanted “clear deliverables”, in terms of weaponry, from MILF, which has waged an insurgency since the 1970s that has left tens of thousands dead and large parts of the south mired in poverty.

She said a “decommissioning body” was to be appointed by both sides to determine what happens to MILF’s weapons, which include machine guns, assault rifles, rocket propelled grenades, small firearms and anti-tank weapons and mortars.

According to the peace process timeline, MILF will cease as a rebel force and reform itself into a political group that will take the reins of the proposed Bangsomoro autonomous region by 2016 when President Benigno Aquino ends his six-year term.

“There are difficult decisions to be made here,” Deles said. “You don’t want this normalization process to be a never-ending target, where they can still recruit while in the process of decommissioning.”

Chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said the government must first conduct an inventory of MILF weaponry, register all fighters and determine how to entice them to lay down their arms – a difficult process considering that most of them were reared in combat and have had their weapons since they were young. With so much distrust sowed through years of opposition, many of the fighters fear any weapons surrendered could be used against them.

The IRA model

Among the models under consideration is the Irish model, when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) signed a peace deal in 1998 and agreed to stockpile their weapons in a warehouse before their destruction, she said.

Two decommissioning deadlines passed before the IRA agreed in 2001 on a method to destroy its arsenal, which was hailed by leaders then as “historic” and a “breakthrough”. Four years later, an independent commission announced the Irish fighters’ entire arsenal had been destroyed.

But back in the Philippines, security analyst Ed Quitoriano, a former ranking Filipino Communist guerrilla who has worked with foreign governments to assess arms proliferation in southern Mindanao, said asking MILF to disarm will be easier said than done.

He argues that national law allows for very “liberal gun ownership” on the premise that citizens have the right to defend their homes and personal welfare. Anyone who is 18 or older can legally own guns, subject to strict screening.

“Why would the MILF disarm when the government says taxpayers and corporations can arm themselves beyond their need?” Quitoriano asked.

Corporations in the south, as well as political warlords, are known to employ private armies, leading to a proliferation of firearms across the Catholic nation, where Muslims are a minority.

“There is no workable model for the MILF, I think – neither Nepal nor Aceh,” he said. “What may be possible is a symbolic disarming in exchange for something else.”

Nepal

Under a 2006 peace deal between Maoist rebels and the Nepalese government, all rebel weapons were to be turned over and stored in containers under UN supervision.

In exchange, the United Community Party of Nepal (Maoist) received legal recognition, including the right to participate in elections. It was also agreed that the armed wing of the party – the People’s Liberation Army – would be integrated into the Nepal Army, something yet to be completed in 2013. Some 9,500 fighters are eligible for army integration, of which the government has agreed to accept 6,500.

Inventory of MILF weapons needed

In 2012 Nepal’s national army took control of seven main rebel cantonments (and some 20 satellite ones), along with some 3,500 weapons in sealed containers.

But according to a May 2013 publication from the Geneva-based independent research project, Small Arms Survey, based on other disarmament experiences, and given the number of Maoist fighters, there may be some 6,000 arms that were never submitted to UN control.

Aceh

In the Indonesian province of Aceh, following almost 30 years of struggle with the central government, separatists with the Free Aceh Movement (local acronym GAM) signed in 2005 the Helsinki Agreement, which committed the rebels to turn over all arms, explosives and ammunition to a European Union (EU)-supported monitoring mission.

When asked why fighters disarmed there with little struggle or infighting, Kamaruddin Abubakar, the former number two leader of the rebellion, told IRIN: “We trusted our leaders. When we were told to put down our weapons, we did so. We were optimistic about the deal given the presence of EU monitors.”

The EU supported 300 peace monitors in Aceh whose mission expired following local elections held in December 2006.

The Philippines government, along with Sri Lanka’s and Thailand’s, recently sent delegations to Aceh to learn how its peace process, especially disarmament, unfolded, said Irwansyah (one name only), founder of a new political party in Aceh who was a rebel commander and representative in theEU monitoring mission.

“It was hard to put down our arms because we feared being arrested,” said Irwansyah. “But because of international support, we did so despite our fears.” He told IRIN the peace deal has been militarily successful, even though there are democratic shortcomings.

Reintegration concerns

In the Philippines, Quitoriano said MILF – because of its long years of armed struggle – has its enemies, with previous governments allowing political clans to arm themselves as an additional proxy force for the military against MILF.

There is also the question of what to do with MILF guerrillas who disarm. Ferrer said one solution is to absorb qualified members into a police force that will take over security of the autonomous region, although the vast majority of fighters never received formal schooling.

“The MILF will not commit to disarming its community-based armed supporters as well. That side has to be on the persuasion of government,” Quitoriano said. “What the MILF wants is not to disarm, but to take over security functions in the new territory.”

MILF enjoys large support in areas where it holds sway, especially from Muslim leaders in remote communities where the rebel movement has taken over the state function of fighting criminal elements due to lack of police.

MILF and its parent group the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), from which it broke away in 1978, has waged a rebellion for the past four decades demanding increased autonomy, which has left tens of thousands dead and thwarted efforts to develop mineral-rich Mindanao where many Muslims claim swathes of land as part of as their “ancestral domain”.

MNLF signed a peace deal with the government in 1996, and an autonomous region was created for it to govern. But despite millions of dollars in development aid, the autonomy was deemed a “failed experiment” in President Aquino’s own words; many areas remain among the poorest nationwide.

Some MNLF forces were absorbed into the armed forces, but were poorly trained and ill-equipped for the rigours of a strictly regulated fighting force. Those who were left behind did not surrender their weapons and went back to the jungle or hinterland where they regrouped or joined smaller bandit groups.

Aquino’s government last year signed a “framework agreement” with MILF calling for the establishment of a new political territory for itself within three years, replacing the region created earlier for the MNLF.

MILF vice-chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar told IRIN the next round of negotiations scheduled for August may be tougher than previous ones, and he expected the government to come up with “creative” offers on how to solve the question of normalization.

“We hate the word surrender. We can’t just disarm and give up our weapons. That will expose us to threats. We will only lay down our arms if clearly we see there is no more need to fight,” he said.

aag/pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Wealth-sharing” deal offers hope

Posted by African Press International on July 19, 2013

MANILA,  – The Philippine government has agreed to give sweeping fiscal powers to Muslim rebels on the island of Mindanao in a bid to end the country’s decades-long insurgency. 

The “wealth-sharing” deal between Manila and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was achieved on 13 July after six-days of bargaining in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, negotiators said.The deal is seen as another step towards the creation of an autonomous entity to be governed by MILF by 2016. The next round of negotiations – to be held after Ramadan – will focus on the scope of MILF governing powers and how and when the rebel force will be disarmed.”Together with the MILF, the Philippines recognize the importance of wealth creation to enable Bangsamoro [name of the new autonomous region] government to successfully operate and deliver to its constituents,” Manila’s head of the peace process Teresita Deles told IRIN. “Both of us have faith that this wealth-sharing arrangement we have created will benefit Bangsamoro.”

Under the deal, MILF will get powers to levy taxes on businesses operating in its territory, and receive grants and funding directly from donors. They will also have the power to grant tax exemptions, rebates, tax holidays and other incentives.

Crucially, MILF will get 75 percent of all earnings derived from exploiting metallic minerals in the area, while receiving half of all revenues from activities related to natural gas or oil.

While there is no data on resources in the Bangsamoro area, official statistics show Mindanao Island contains a large portion of the country’s estimated US$800 billion in gold, copper and other mineral deposits.

Manila’s chief negotiator in the talks, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, said the overriding consideration in achieving the deal was for economic activity to gradually take root in the south, where the four-year insurgency has left tens of thousands dead and led to mass displacements.

“The whole idea with the total package that we have come up with is to provide for sources of revenues in the hope that these resources and revenues will increase over time as peace and development prevail in the region,” she said. “They can become less dependent and they can stand on their own.” 

Two more hurdles

She called on both sides to seize the momentum and agree on the last two remaining contentious issues – disarming MILF and defining the powers of their leaders once they begin controlling the region by 2016.

“This is where crunch time really comes for the MILF because this is the part where they will be talking about decommissioning of weapons,” she said. “This is something that is not easy to give up for a group that has held on to its arms in order to pursue its cause.”

It also comes at a time when other armed groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), could take advantage of the lull to cause more trouble. BIFF broke away from MILF in 2011 after saying they opposed the talks.

They have been carrying out periodic attacks ever since, including one that left eight dead before the last round of negotiations started.

MILF Vice-Chairman for Political Affairs Ghazali Jaafar said he expected tougher negotiations ahead before a final peace deal is signed, noting that the rebels would only lay down their arms if they were assured they would not be arrested or attacked by soldiers. He said there must also be “adequate protection” against other violent armed groups in the south.

“God willing, we will be able to move forward and finally give peace to the next generation of Muslims so they won’t have to suffer more bloodshed,” he said. “We have spent a lot of capital on these talks, so you can say we are definitely committed to ending this peacefully.”
Displacement

In 2008, more than 700,000 people were displaced after fighting broke out when a peace agreement, which gave MILF control over more than 700 areas in the south they considered their ancestral domain, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a project backed by the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Philippines has made significant progress towards the peaceful settlement of long-standing conflicts, but has yet to put an end to displacement. In 2012, at least 178,000 people fled clashes between government forces and non-state armed groups, and clan violence affecting mainly Muslim-majority areas in Mindanao.

At least 1,200 people displaced by armed conflict, clan violence and crime remain in government-recognized camps and relocation sites, the IDMC reported in April 2013. It is estimated that nearly two million people (1,993,000) were displaced in Mindanao during 2012, with natural disasters accounting for 91 percent of all displacements.

aag/ds/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 end

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Engaging with armed groups

Posted by African Press International on April 27, 2013

COTABATO,  – For Chris Rush, of the Swiss-based NGO Geneva Call, nuance is everything when engaging with armed groups. Although the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Maoist-inspired New People’s Army (NPA) are both fighting insurrections on the same Philippines island of Mindanao, the choice of terminology is a tender issue when it comes to the use of such phrases as “armed non-state actors (ANSAs)”. 

“The Maoists reject the word ‘ANSA’ as they see themselves having attained a situation of dual power and of having established a revolutionary government… while the MILF are more positive about the term, as they feel it provides some sort of political acknowledgement,” Rush, the senior programme officer for the Philippines, told IRIN.

The Moro, the island’s indigenous Islamic population, have fought for independence in their Mindanao ancestral homeland for about 40 years in various guises, and are on the cusp of reaching an agreement with the Philippine government for a semi-autonomous state, to be known as Bangsamoro, that could end one of the country’s longest-running conflicts.

Rush has engaged with the MILF and its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) and other stakeholders for the past six years to provide a mechanism for the MILF-BIAF to support humanitarian laws. Armed groups are automatically excluded from signing international treaties prescribing humanitarian norms.

There is a genuine affability between Rush and the MILF when they meet at Camp Darapanan near Cotabato on Mindanao, where the archipelago’s largest armed group has about 12,000 combatants in more than 20 heavily guarded command bases. Talks with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim and other officials range beyond the armed group’s commitment not to use anti-personnel mines to issues touching the prospective peace agreement.

High aims

Geneva Call’s engagements with armed groups have strategic, long-term objectives relating to policy and practice, rather than focusing on more immediate problems like securing access to assist vulnerable populations, as is the case with many humanitarian actors. Rush said the importance of dealing with the same personalities consistently “cannot be overstated… but saying that there is only one right way to approach an armed group I would avoid, as it depends on what you are seeking to achieve.”

“Saying that there is only one right way to approach an armed group I would avoid, as it depends on what you are seeking to achieve”

A document by Geneva Call to provide a format for armed groups to subscribe to humanitarian norms was first devised for anti-personnel mine usage. The MILF signed the Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action in 2000, during an upsurge in the conflict.

Much of the nationalist struggle took place in the Bangsamoro homeland. Because landmines harm indiscriminately and remain lethal after peace agreements are signed, the MILF-BIAF favoured a ban on anti-personnel mines, but prior to the Deed of Commitment there were no available mechanisms to formalise it, Rush said.

In many respects the Deed mirrors the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), a state protocol ending the use of anti-personnel mines and requiring the destruction of weapons stockpiles, which entered into force in 1999. The Philippine government was among the MBT’s first signatories.

A progress report on a 2012 Framework Peace Agreement between the MILF and the government, and its stance against the use of anti-personnel mines, was presented at two recent BIAF rallies. Rush was a guest speaker and drove home the point that “[anti-personnel] landmines are an issue of conflict, but also of peace”.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Coalition Against the Use of Child Soldiers, and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), among others, had also approached the MILF about International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and human rights law, and adhering to international humanitarian norms in their conduct of war.

Geneva Call was introduced to the MILF by the Philippines Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL), the local branch of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Geneva Call has developed two more Deeds of Commitment for armed groups – one for the protection of children from armed conflict, another covering the respect and rights of women – and is commencing negotiations for adoption of the latter by the MILF. “We are fighting for the cause of self-determination… you have to conform to international standards,” Murad Ebrahim told IRIN.

Humanitarian norms

Jesus Domingo, of the government’s foreign affairs department, told IRIN he became involved in the MILF commitment not to use anti-personnel mines through the department’s work in humanitarian affairs and disarmament in 2007. “The process was very much between MI [a shorthand for MILF] and Geneva Call, but we encouraged it and applauded it, as we welcome armed non-state actors embracing IHL and other international norms.”

The government assented and then stood back. “We respected their [Geneva Call’s] independence… and for them to be successful they must have the confidence of not only us, but also of MI,” Domingo said. The MILF signing the Deed “was a plus”, and “It certainly contributed to the building of confidence… Geneva Call were not directly part of the peace process, but we saw them as part of the overall spectrum.”

The proposed peace agreement could allow for an autonomous region in Mindanao with tax-raising powers and a share of the profits from the island’s mineral resources, with the government retaining control over defence, foreign affairs and monetary policies. Sharia law may be applied, but only to Muslims in relation to civil cases, while criminal cases will be the domain of existing courts. Once the agreement is confirmed, it would go to the Philippines Congress for approval, followed by a plebiscite in Bangsamoro.

“During the early stages of the struggle we were using anti-personnel mines as a defence for our camps,” Murad Ebrahim noted. “There are those commanders who said we did not need to sign this commitment but, ultimately, if we continued to use landmines, our people suffer.”

A civilian is questioned at a checkpoint of the armed group, near Tarragona, in Davao Oriental province on the Philippines island of Mindanao

He said the 2001 Tripoli agreement between the MILF and the government to resume peace talks, which included provisions for the respect of human rights and IHL, and a commitment not to use anti-personnel mines, “gave us the image of having respect for international law”.

An analyst who declined to be identified told IRIN the commitment to end the use of anti-personnel mines gave the armed group a “wider level of respect… It brings more good than bad, and more credibility [among the international community] for armed non-state actors.”

The MILF was formed in 1977 after Sheikh Salamat Hashim split from the secularist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which had begun its separatist war five years earlier. The Philippines government reached a peace agreement with MNLF in 1996, and in the following year signed an interim peace agreement with the MILF.

Peace processes

The long-running conflict has seen an estimated 150,000 people killed so far, amid a host of proposed and rejected peace agreements. Two million people have been displaced since 2000, of which about 22,000 remain displaced today.

Domingo said, “There were separate tracks [of discussion] with the different Muslim groups [MNLF and MILF] in Mindanao,” as well as efforts to resolve conflicts with other armed groups, such as the NPA and “the breakaway communist movements.” These discussions covered social, economic and political reforms, consensus-building, separate negotiated settlements with each armed group, reconciliation, reintegration and rehabilitation, and the protection of civilians during conflict.

One government source, who declined to be identified, told IRIN: “There are strong rumours of a breakthrough with the NPA. It may be weariness, or… [a sense of] ‘Hey, let’s not get left behind by history’.”

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines, political representatives of the NPA, signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in the 1990s. Some observers say they may believe this encompasses the banning of anti-personnel mines and could be why they have not signed a Deed.

A 2008 peace agreement gave the MILF control over more than 700 areas in the south that they considered their ancestral domain, but this was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and hostilities resumed. In the course of the fighting the Philippines government accused the BIAF of using anti-personnel mines and Geneva Call launched a verification mission.

Verification

In 2009 Geneva Call concluded that some of the explosive devices used against the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were activated by remote control and therefore not prohibited under the Deed’s provisions. Others may have been victim-activated – set-off by trip wires or by downward pressure and therefore be in violation of the Deed – but there was not enough evidence to attribute responsibility. “The military would have lik s

ed more definitive conclusions,” Domingo commented.

“It was not possible to definitively conclude that its forces had no involvement in the incidents, so it was not a zero-sum game”

Rush noted that “Although perhaps not completely satisfied, the government did accept the findings… [but] the MILF were also a little disappointed that it was not possible to definitively conclude that its forces had no involvement in the incidents, so it was not a zero-sum game.”

The verification report showed that disavowing anti-personnel landmine use was just a first step towards the “actualization of obligations”, and armed groups sometimes needed assistance to achieve this. “So they [MILF-BIAF] drafted General Order Number 3, and we assisted… [with] advice and through working with them and our local partner, the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies, to disseminate the Order to their forces on the ground,” Rush said.

Domingo said the Order was seen as “a real earnest effort by MILF to educate its combatants about not using landmines”, and added to “the very upbeat” feeling the government has about the Bangsamoro peace process

 

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