Philippine Muslim rebel leader says last chance for peace

Philippines, Sept 19, 2009 (AFP) - The leader of the Muslim insurgency in the southern Philippines warned Saturday that upcoming peace talks may be the last chance for a peaceful settlement with the government.

Murad Ibrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), also warned of "anarchy" if the government fails to seal a peace accord.

"If this (series of talks) will not succeed, I don't see the possibility of another one. We feel there can be anarchy if it does not proceed," he told AFP.

"And this could lead to a situation where there is no more control," of the MILF guerrillas in the field, he told AFP.

"This will go from generation to generation," he said, adding that most of the MILF fighters, now in their 30s-40s, grew up during the height of the fighting and were "more emboldened and radical."

"In the past years, the government only paid lip service to the peace process," he complained, saying it had only used it as part of the counter-insurgency plan and not as a way to really achieve peace.

Speaking at a tightly-secured MILF camp outside the city of Cotabato, Ibrahim said the rebels would take what they could under the government of President Gloria Arroyo "but what is important is we are manifesting our sincerity."

The 12,000-member MILF has been waging a separatist rebellion since 1978 to carve out an Islamic state in the southern part of the largely Catholic Philippines.

Ibrahim said the group would not give in to demands they turn over MILF commanders Ameril Umbrakato and Abdulrahman Macapaar who are blamed for attacks on Mindanao island in August 2008 that caused the collapse of the last peace talks.

"There is no way we can surrender them. The government has made the case against them but we don't recognise that case," he said.

He warned that "trust and confidence was completely shattered," after the Supreme Court last year scrapped a draft agreement with the MILF due to a widespread outcry from Christian communities.

The agreement would have given the MILF control over a vast swathe of land including hundreds of villages.

The court's move sparked the attacks by Umbrakato and Macapaar against mostly-Christian towns on Mindanao that left scores dead and more than half a million displaced. Thousands remain stuck in run-down evacuation centres.

The attacks broke a five-year ceasefire between the government and the MILF and halted the peace talks.

Manila put a half a million-peso (104,000-dollar) reward on each of the commanders' heads and demanded that the MILF turn them over if they wanted the peace talks to proceed.

However the government later softened its stance and on Wednesday signed an agreement allowing international peace brokers to be involved in negotiations aimed at ending the decades-old uprising.

Despite the violence, Ibrahim said he was committed to finding a peaceful solution but called on the government to show "political will".

He also said the MILF would insist on its demands for control of the large areas of land as mentioned in the scrapped draft agreement.

Source: AFP

Other news