Philippine security forces went on full alert this week ahead of elections in the Muslim south that could be a focus for violence after a fresh setback in a stop-start peace process with Muslims.
"The political temperature in the south is fast rising," said Emmanuel Pinol, a vice governor in the southern region of Mindanao.
He said farmers in most Catholic communities had been arming themselves "to defend" their property.
Thousands of Catholics defied Mindanao deal this week with the MILF that would have expanded the existing Muslim region and given its future government political and economic powers.
The top court temporarily halted a signing ceremony for the agreement and its judges will decide in the next few months whether the deal is unconstitutional and needs to be reworked.
"The trouble will not come from us," said Eid Kabalu, an MILF spokesman.
"We continue to abide by the ceasefire and remain committed to the peace process. Those Christian officials in North Cotabato are just creating hysteria and calling on their people to arm. We will defend ourselves if they attack us."
Muslims in the south of the largely Catholic country have been seeking some form of independence for decades.
About 1.6 million voters were expected to elect a governor, a vice governor and 24 members of a regional legislative assembly in the six-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) on Aug. 11.
The ARMM was created out of a peace deal with another Muslim rebel group in 1989. Many Muslims say its powers are too limited.
Joel Goltiao, police chief in the Muslim region, said about 17,000 soldiers and police officers had been deployed to guard the elections, particularly in 200 villages.
"There are no real and specific threats, but there had been a lot of speculation due to developments in the peace talks," he said.
Peace advocates appealed for calm.
"The current situation has started to create social disorder brought about by some hostile posturing both from supporters and opponents of the proposed Muslim homeland," said a statement from the Mindanao Peaceweavers network.
"The situation on the ground points to more violence especially in Central Mindanao."
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs said the court decision to stop the signing ceremony was "purely an internal problem of the government".
"We are not bound by that order," he said. "It's an internal process in the government. What was committed by the government cannot be taken back."
Malaysia called on Tuesday for maintaining peace in the Philippines, as an order by the latter's Supreme Court that halted a deal.
Last Mod: 06 Ağustos 2008, 14:02