11/30/2006, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao: Christians, Muslims march for peace

by Santosh Digal

The ninth "Week of Peace" opened yesterday in Zamboanga, urging the government and separatist rebels of the Islamic Front to put an end to hostilities in the southern archipelago.

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) - More than 30,000 people yesterday gathered in the capital of the southern archipelago to celebrate the opening of the ninth "Week of Peace", an event that "in the name of God, the merciful, calls for an end to all hostilities".

The Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) of the Philippines, composed of 24 Catholic bishops, 18 Protestants and 24 Ulamas, sponsored the event and decided on the theme.

Christians from different churches, Muslims, teachers, students, human rights activists and government officials marched together to call for an end to the war between Manila and rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is calling for autonomy for the Muslim majority region.

For more than 40 years, MILF has been fighting against the government to win autonomy for the Muslim minority that largely inhabits the south of the Philippines. In the past two years, armed clashes have decreased significantly after peace negotiations were launched with the government of Manila. However, these stalled some months ago.

Fr Angel Calvo, a Claretian missionary and president of the Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), a group that promotes peace in the south of the Philippines, said the people marching were like a "colourful tapestry of peace, joining those afflicted by the war and calling for its end."

Zamboanga Mayor, Celso Lobregat, said he was "overwhelmed" by the huge attendance: "The people of Zamboanga are sending a strong message that we all want peace, we want an end to hostilities."

Romeo Abela, a man with a disability who took part in the march, said: "I just want to show to the whole world that despite our condition, we are longing and working hard to build peace."

Marx De Cruz is a member of the Little Drummer Boys, a group of boys who beg on the streets, singing and dancing. The boy said: "We took time off from asking money to perform here but we are happy and proud to be part of this rally."

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