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Inside Story

Philippine rebels: A challenge to peace?

We ask if recent fighting marks the last throes of a decades-old conflict, or the start of a deadly new phase of unrest.

Last updated: 29 Jan 2014 08:54
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The Philippine army is taking on hardline separatists who are opposed to a new peace deal between the government and a main rebel group.

Malaysian-brokered talks with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have raised hopes of an end to decades of conflict in the southern island of Mindanao.

The MILF had been backing a rebellion since the 1970s, aimed at winning independence for the country's Muslim minority. The government is now granting members amnesty for offences related to that cause as part of a peace pact.

But a number of smaller rebel factions, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been excluded, and appear determined to fight on.

The rebellion in the Philippines has been prolonged and costly. Minority Muslims took up arms in the early 1970s, seeking autonomy and a better life in Mindanao.

Up to 150,000 people, mostly civilians, are estimated to have been killed since then. A comprehensive peace has been elusive. A deal was agreed with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1996, but little else was achieved.

In 2008, peace talks with the MILF foundered on the question of autonomy. The struggle has left around half of the region's population in poverty, with millions displaced from their homes.

Reporting from Mindanao, Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan said: "For generations, these people have been displaced by war and yet they keep asking the same questions: Why them? Why are they being dragged into conflicts they have nothing to do with, when all they really want, they say, is to be able to live a life in peace?"

The latest deal, reached on Saturday, aims to create a better-funded and potentially larger region to be known as Bangsamoro. But again, the agreement is with just one group, and even former President Joseph Estrada says the deal is destined to fail.

Estrada served from 1998 to 2001, proclaiming he started an all-out war against the MILF, adding: "Sometimes you have to wage war to earn peace. You have to show them that there is only one flag, one armed forces of the Philippines, one government. If I wasn’t unseated, I would have finished off that secessionist movement."

So, does the latest fighting mark the last throes of a decades-old conflict, or is it the start of a deadly new phase in one of the world's most protracted wars?

To discuss this, Inside Story presenter Adrian Finighan is joined by guests: Major General Romeo Gapuz, a Philippine army commander; Steven Rood, the Asia Foundation’s country representative for the Philippines and Pacific Island Nations; and Peter Deck, the head of Mindanao Operations for the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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