09/24/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao: MILF leader says peace can stop violence among young people

The founder of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front says he wants peace “to save young Muslims from utter poverty” but still does not trust the pledges of the Filipino government.
Mindanao (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is sincere and determined to back efforts to further the peace process. The struggle for the independence of our land has cost too much innocent blood,” said MILF leader Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. He now says he wants “peace to save new Muslim generations from utter poverty.”

Forty years of war between the Filipino military and MILF have turned Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into one of the least developed parts of the country.

The rate of poverty stands at 45 per cent; unemployment is 24 per cent. Moreover, since fighting resumed in 2008 after an 11-years truce, 300 people have died and 750,000 have had to flee their homes. Some 200,000 people are currently languishing in refugee camps. In such a situation, young people are increasingly drawn to Islamic extremism.

Speaking to AFP, Murad said, “We must stop the flow of violence that is pouring over young Muslims and pushing them to fight and take more radical positions. All this has been going on for 40 years, and could continue with future generations, born and bred in war.”

The MIFL leader said that now “training of young leaders should be directed at building the country and peace, but also [our] defence in case the government breaks the agreements.”

Murad has led MILF since 2003 and is seen by many as being close to al-Qaeda.

In the 1960, he studied at Mindanao’s Notre-Dame University, a Catholic college. Here he met Nur Misuari and Salamat Hashim, then leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Together with Salamat he set up the MILF in 1978. During the 80s, he joined the mujahidin in the Afghan War.

Even though the MNLF laid down its weapons in 1997 beginning talks with the government, Murad and MILF have pursued the armed struggle to this day.

On 15 September talks between the Filipino government and the MILF were resumed in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).

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