07/30/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Mindanao: four Christians killed, a fifth missing

by Santosh Digal
Yesterday an armed group ambushed a bus in Lanao del Sur, stronghold of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The group robbed passengers and then shot the men. The Philippine Church urges an accord between the government and MILF to avoid an escalation in violent attacks.

Cotabato City (AsiaNews) – Armed men stopped a mini-bus and murdered four Christian male passengers execution-style in Mindanao yesterday, while a fifth passenger is still missing.

According to police, the murder took place in an area considered a bastion of rebels from the Moro Islamic Front, where criminal episodes of this nature have occurred in the past.  Security officials failed to confirm is if the assassination was of a confessional nature or whether the Muslim militants were responsible.  The bus was carrying about 15 people when it was stopped near Malabang, Lanao del Sur, an area under MILF control. The passengers were robbed but the women were allowed to leave unharmed; then four of the five men were dragged into a forest and shot in the head at close range, the fifth abducted.

The signing of a peace accord between the central government and MILF rebels, held responsible for the July 24th attack in Davao del Sur, appears increasingly fragile.  Also Yesterday 30 suspected MILF rebels attacked a paramilitary outpost in Dualing, Midsayap, North Cotabato, killing a civilian and wounding four others.

MILF maintains its right to control some of the majority Muslim regions of Mindanao, the theatre of bloody episodes of violence: on the negotiating table the creation of a “federal” state – the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), enlarged by the annexation of a further 72 Muslim majority villages – along with rights to exploit territorial resources.  Villages will be able to decide by popular referendum whether to join the ARMM, but the deputy governor of North Nord Cotabato has underlined the uselessness of the vote because of “threats and vote rigging aimed at forcing the villagers to vote for annexation”.

The Philippine Catholic Church, through the bishop’s conference, has urged “the government and the MILF to return to the negotiating table after talks ended again in an impasse”. Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro and CBCP Commission on Inter-religious Dialogue head has strenuously called for “an end to the violence” and “the re-starting of peace talks”.  This is why the bishops are in favour of third party mediators between the two sides. The Malaysian government had been serving as facilitator a role that requires “care, diligence and time” in order to bear fruit.  But many fear that time is of essence: if a deal is not reached soon, war could return to Mindanao

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See also
Radio talk-show to foster inter-faith dialogue in Mindanao
18/07/2008
Philippine President cancels deal with MILF
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Mindanao, at least 20 killed in clashes between the army and Islamic rebels
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Mindanao: spreading a culture of peace through radio
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PIME missionary: lack of agreement between Muslims and government behind Mindanao attacks
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