THE PHILIPPINES. 9 April 2003 On Tuesday 25 March dozens of rebels stopped a Christian lorry-driver and his helper, and then shot and killed them. Five Christians were killed by Islamic rebels in the town of M'Lang on Wednesday 26 March. More violence followed on Monday 31 March, wounding 12 Christians in Midsayap town in North Cotabato.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) separatist group's spokesman Eid Kabalu acknowledged responsibility for the attack in M'Lang town on the island of Mindanao where Muslim rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades into houses in the mainly Christian town. According to the Vice-Mayor of M'Lang some Christians were also shot. Three of the victims were killed while sleeping in their mosquito nets; two other Christians were killed, including a child, and six more were wounded.
Government negotiators headed for Malaysia on Thursday 27 March to meet with the rebels. On Sunday 30 March an interim pact to resume peace talks between the government and the Muslim separatists was made. However, this was ignored and violence has continued. In Midsayap the MILF also admitted attacking houses, injuring 12 Christians, and then using 6 Christian farmers as human-shields against the pursing Philippines army. Kabalu responded by saying, "there is no
ceasefire yet and our forces [MILF] are just on their active defence move."
Tensions in the area were heightened on 2 April when a city wharf was destroyed by a bomb killing 16 people in the city of Davao, a city with a Christian majority and a Muslim minority. This was followed by the bombing of three mosques. The MILF denied responsibility for the mosque attack. Kabalu suggested that it may have been "aimed at really igniting a Muslin-Christian war in Mindanao." However, a Mindanao legislator, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, and military intelligence sources blame the MILF.
Peace talks between the MILF and the government are now in doubt. The MILF and the Philippines army clashed again on 7 April. In this incident the town of M'Lang was once more affected and 200 families were forced to flee to safer areas.
Islamic separatists in the majority-Christian Philippines have been fighting for an independent Islamic homeland in the south of the country for the 5 million Muslim Filipinos since 1972. Two Islamic militant groups, the MILF, mainly operative on Mindanao, and the smaller and more extreme Abu Sayyaf, mainly in Basilan and Jolo, are at the forefront of the current violence.
Majority-Christian cities, towns and villages of the southern Philippines are often targeted by Islamic militants. Christian ministers and missionaries have in the past been singled out for particular torture and gruesome execution because of their faith.
In other news Salip Asman Halipa, a senior commander in Abu Sayyaf, was shot and killed by the Philippines army on Tuesday 25 March. The army has actively been seeking out rebels since 10 February. They have had limited success, as has the government in its pursuit for peace. The MILF's demands include any peace deal in Mindanao being monitored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group representing 53 Muslim countries in the world. This makes it increasingly unlikely that any future peace-deal will be beneficial to local Christian communities.