World Bulletin / News Desk
The head of the second largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines insists that a 1996 peace deal should be honored, saying that a new deal between the Philippine government and a rival group is a betrayal of everything it stands for.
Muslimin Sema told Anadolu Agency that his Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has continued to comply with commitments it agreed with the Philippine government in 1996, but the government has failed to do the same.
“The government is now holding another state of negotiations with our brothers in the Moro Islamist Liberation Front (MILF), giving smaller territory than committed in 1996. This is not acceptable,” he told AA at his group’s headquarters in Camp Ebrahim which is near Cotobato city, in the country’s south.
“Implementation of the 1996 peace deal has never been realized,” he added.
Since the 1970s, the MNLF and several other armed groups have supported a rebellion aimed at achieving independence for the country’s predominantly Muslim south, determined to earn what the leader terms "a better life" for the predominantly Catholic country's Muslim population.
A new peace deal – to be signed March 27 - has now been agreed between the government and the MILF - now the largest Muslim rebel group in Mindanao - but hundreds of other rebel fighters continue the armed struggle, accusing the government of reneging on a promise to develop an autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao.
The agreement represents the culmination of diplomatic efforts aimed at ending conflict in Mindanao, the home of the Muslim minority. It aims to end an insurgency that began in the 1970s and killed at least 120,000 people, mostly civilians. The violence has also left large parts of the country’s fertile southern region mired in poverty.
Sema says that the new deal allows the formation of six provinces into an autonomous region, while the 1996 deal consisted of 13 provinces.
MILF leaders have said that if the region extended to the 13 provinces, Muslims would be outnumbered by Christians, but Sema says that the ratio is unimportant – “it shows the willingness of the Muslims to live with Christians.”
“There are millions of Moro people left out of the present agreement,“ he said.
"We are worried about breakup of MILF"
Stressing that thousands of MNLF fighters joined the Philippines armed forces on the back of the 1996 deal, Sema told AA that those fighters were now nowhere to be found.
“According to the 1996 agreement, the Philippine army would form a special brigade for our fighters who joined them. Instead of that, the army dispersed the “5,000 fighters all over the country,” he said
“We don’t have any contact with them now.”
He said that he had no idea what happened to the fighters and was now worried that the MILF – ”one of the strongest forces that the Moro (The Bangsamoro) people have“ – might experience the same problem.
He said that the MNLF doubts that the new deal will be implemented properly.
“The agreement we had in 1996 is very similar to that documented in the present agreement. If the government failed to implement the 1996 agreement, than we doubt it can implement the present,” he added.
Sema explained that attempts to revive the 1996 deal are currently taking place between the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Philippines government and the MNLF, and said that they will demand the implementation of the agreement through peaceful ways.
“If this is concluded to the satisfaction of all parties, then we have nothing to do with the present talks,” he said.
Asked if the MNLF might join the current peace deal, he said: “We are not part of the current deal, unless there is a proper, legitimate mechanism to discuss how we can have some kind of give and take to integrate the past agreement with the new one. That’s the only thing we can accept.”
"Anything can happen"
Sema stated that the MNLF doesn’t want any more armed struggle, and thus signed the 1996 agreement.
“However, if the agreement that we signed is abrogated, thrown into the dustbin of the history, then we don’t know what our people will decide.”
He said that the Moro have undergone so many difficulties in the last 40 years that it is difficult to know what is in their minds.
“In that sense, anything can happen,” he added.
Sema recognized that even though they are a smaller group than the MILF, they have been fighting for a long time.
“It’s the determination that counts, not the numbers,” he said.Last Mod: 25 Mart 2014, 11:33