05/03/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao, Islamic rebels drive more than a thousand Christians from their land

by Santosh Digal
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, after the withdrawal of Malaysian mediators, has decided to "reclaim" the land of their ancestors, which for decades has been farmed by Christians. The police want to avoid armed confrontation, and are not intervening.

Cotabato (AsiaNews) - The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has forced about 1,200 Christian farmers to flee from a village in the southern province of Mindanao.  This is confirmed by the local police, who withdrew from the area in order to avoid an armed conflict with the rebels.  These have been seeking for about 40 years to obtain a sort of administrative and sectarian independence from Manila.

This situation deteriorated last week, when Malaysia withdrew its mediators from the province, the stronghold of the Muslim Filipinos.  According to a peace agreement signed by the rebels and the government, in fact, an autonomous Muslim region was supposed to have been created this year with the supervision of neighbouring countries, called to oversee the cease-fire.

But dialogue between the two parties was abruptly interrupted, in spite of appeals from Catholic and Muslim religious leaders, and the fear of new sectarian violence forced many Christians in the south to flee to safer areas.

Garcia, a local farmer, recounts: "The Islamic Front arrived suddenly and claimed their forefathers owned the land we are farming, and at gunpoint told us to leave. Police were not allowed entry, so they backed off to avoid bloodshed".

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