MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 26, 2008) – Fierce fighting between Filipino troops and Muslim rebels continue in Mindanao as hopes of resuming suspended peace talks in the troubled southern region remains dim.
“Fighting is raging in Lanao del Sur and so in the provinces of Maguindanao and other areas where Philippine troops are attacking our forces,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.
Peace talks, brokered by Malaysia, were suspended by President Gloria Arroyo after rebel forces attacked civilian targets in Mindanao over the failed signing in August of a Muslim territorial deal with the MILF.
Arroyo also disbanded the government peace panel negotiating with rebels and demanded the MILF to surrender three commanders – Ameril Kato, Abdullah Macapaar and Sulayman Pangalian – who led the deadly attacks in at least 3 provinces in central Mindanao.
Manila has put up a P10 million bounties each for the capture of Macapaar, Kato and Pangalian.
Arroyo also scrapped the land deal which the government and rebel peace negotiators initially signed in July in Malaysia.
Iqbal said security forces pursuing the three rebel commanders have been attacking MILF positions, sparking sporadic, but deadly skirmishes the past weeks.
“Fighting is fierce yesterday in Lanao del Sur and there are skirmishes in Maguindanao and other nearby provinces. And we have been parrying government attacks, but civilians are suffering because they are being displaced by government offensives,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.
More than half a million people have been displaced by fighting since August and many of them are in temporary refugee shelters.
Iqbal said hopes of resuming the peace talks with Arroyo are unlikely because of the continued military operation. “With this situation, there is little hope in continuing the peace talks,” he said.
The MILF earlier said it would only resume peace talks if Arroyo honors the territorial deal that would grant a separate homeland to over four million Muslims across mote than 700 villages in Mindanao.
The Supreme Court declared the land deal, which would have created the so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, unconstitutional. The controversial deal also sparked massive protests from politicians and residents opposed to the ancestral domain agreement.
Peace talks were also stalled in the past with Malaysia accusing the Arroyo government of delaying the negotiations. (Mindanao Examiner)