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Rogue elements keep war simmering

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The Philippines' long history of radical movements has kept guerrilla wars simmering on low burner, especially in the Muslim-dominated areas of the south.  For decades, bombings and kidnappings have made news here, and Filipinos have become accustomed to reading about them.  Our government has become adept at fighting the various groups to a standstill, then negotiating peace settlements with them.  Each new peace process brings with it renewed hope that perhaps this nation might at last be at peace with itself.

Interestingly, each guerrilla movement starts out believing only violent actions will answer the needs of the Filipinos they claim to represent, but they end up seeking a peace treaty.  As each group begins to see the light, however, a splinter faction of rogue elements breaks off from its ranks and returns to the violent path even as the cooler heads negotiate a peace treaty that advances the interests of their constituency.  But as always, the rogue elements do not learn from history.

Filipinos remember the government signed a peace treaty in 1996 with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that has lasted to this day -- albeit with some rogue terrorist actions. Neither side is completely satisfied with the treaty, but it is better for all than never-ending war.  The treaty was again the subject for debate and review, when the Organization of the Islamic Conference hosted talks between the government and the MNLF in Saudi Arabia.  As a sign of the importance both sides place on this treaty, MNLF leader Nur Misuari was released from house arrest to attend.  In addition, he was given permission to make a pilgrimage to Mecca afterward.

The MNLF first began to negotiate with the government in the 1970s.  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) broke off from the MNLF in 1976, because a handful of guerrillas were not satisfied with the MNLF's intentions to negotiate autonomy over an area of the Muslim homeland instead of fighting for independence for the territory.  After a few more years of fruitless guerrilla warfare, the MILF in turn began to seek a peace accommodation with the government, based on autonomy of a region instead of independence.  The government is offering largely autonomous rule with major control over the functions of society and government. The talks today concern the size of the region.  This difficulty, like all those before it, will be negotiated to a mutually acceptable agreement, and the talks will go forward.  Both sides are making honest efforts.

In the early 1990s, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) broke from the MILF because of dissatisfaction with the pace and direction of the war.  Led then by Khadaffy Janjalani and Abu Sulaiman, ASG concentrated on kidnappings for ransom and creating public disturbances for propaganda purposes.  What Abu Sayyaf has mostly accomplished, however, is to arouse the public's disgust because of its brutality in beheading prisoners and anyone it believes might have cooperated with the police.  Typical of the rogues who keep this war perking, ASG is incapable of realizing its own mistakes and has thus repeated them for years.

Janjalani and Sulaiman committed their biggest mistake, however, when they gave shelter to another group of rogues, this time from the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).  The group consisted of a dozen fighters led by Dulmatin and Umar Patek, both wanted internationally for their part in the infamous 2002 Bali resort bombings that killed 202 people.  The Indonesian government has reduced JI to fewer than 100 fighters, and the presence of the JI members in Abu Sayyaf has brought a concentration of government forces that rapidly are reducing ASG in a similar way.

Now ASG is becoming a waste bin for unrepentant rogues from other organizations.  Segments of the MNLF and MILF who cannot see the benefits of the peace process are filtering into Abu Sayyaf. With a force estimated at fewer than 300 fighters, ASG continues its fruitless efforts to re-establish itself as a major guerrilla force but suffers from continuous small government actions that kill or capture two, three or a dozen fighters at a time. Authorities say the offensive is aimed at eliminating Abu Sayyaf, but a major part of the thrust is to capture or kill the remaining JI members -- especially the two top men, Dulmatin and Umar Patek.

This mongrel group of rogues from two nations is bottled up in Sulu but keeps the war perking along with its small efforts. The leaders appear incapable of understanding that the responsible MNLF and MILF leaders have accomplished more for Muslims with peace negotiations than the rogue elements ever will. (MW)

By Menardo Wenceslao




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