COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 02, 2008) – A former Muslim rebel leader, Nur Misuari, jailed on charges of rebellion in the Philippines, has been removed as chieftain of the Moro National Liberation Front.
A former rebel leader, Muslimin Sema, now the mayor of Cotabato City in Mindanao Island, has been named as the new chieftain of the MNLF. It was the second time in nearly a decade that Misuari, who founded the MNLF, was removed by his own commanders.
In 2000, Misuari was also ousted by his Foreign Affairs chief Parouk Hussin, who along with Sema and other senior leaders, made up the so-called Council of 15.
Sema’s group previously appointed Misuari as chairman emeritus, but rejected the position. The Council of 15 accused Misuari of being incompetent as governor of the Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.
And in November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.
Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest and facing rebellion charges in Manila.
Misuari's arrest in Malaysia, which also previously supported the MNLF bid for a separate homeland in Mindanao, was said to be in retaliation for his failure to secure the release of dozens of foreigners and Malaysian citizens kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf group on two island resorts off Sabah in 2000 and brought to Sulu province.
Hussin, who became governor of the Muslim autonomous region, was also ousted several years later after the Council of 15, disgruntled at his leadership, put back Misuari as head of the MNLF in 2007.
Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.
But Misuari's fall had severely affected the MNLF which is now heavily divided and rift among its leaders is becoming more apparent. Misuari also ran twice for governor in Sulu province even while under detention, but lost.
He also supported Arroyo's election bid and her allies in the Senate and Congress in 2004 in exchange for promises that he would be pardoned and freed.
Sema’s spokesman, Abdullah Cusain, said the former rebel leader was unanimously elected by the MNLF central committee after a plenum on Tuesday in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province.
“With two-thirds of the Central Committee’s members and more than 300 ground commanders in attendance, the 3-day assembly settles the leadership crisis and absence of policy directions engendered in part by the refusal of Misuari in 2000 to abide with the decision of the then Council of 15 elevating him as chairman emeritus,” Cusain said.
Cusain said the 58-year old Sema vowed to “put into track the peace process with the government and make good the relations between the MNLF and government and convert it as vanguard of our people against exploitation and oppression and also as vanguard for good governance, transparency and accountability”.
Sema, he said, intends to work further with local and international non-government organizations to bring peace and development in Muslim areas in Mindanao.
“Sema expects resistance to his leadership only by those whom he called as having different direction in the pursuit of the MNLF’s goals. He stressed that the Front is not fractured and that reorganization is in the offing,” Cusain said.
A former aide of Misuari and member of the Council of 15, Abdul Sahrin, have also been named as the new MNLF secretary-general. Misuari has previously branded the Council of 15 as a group of traitors.
Sources close to Misuari said he may be freed this year on condition that he will go to exile in Libya, which had previously supported the MNLF struggle for independence in the Philippines.
It was unknown whether Tripoli was aware or part of the plan, but Seif al Islam, the son of the Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi and former Libyan ambassador to Manila, Salem Adam were in Manila last year and met with government and MNLF leaders and discussed about Misuari’s case. (Mindanao Examiner)