Philippines: Arroyo scraps peace agreement and excludes MILF from negotiating table
by Santosh Digal
It's a definitive split between the government and rebel groups of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, responsible for the recent wave of violence in Mindanao. There are almost half a million refugees on the island. The appeal of the Catholic Church, which, together with the Muslims, wants "true peace" for the country.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Today the Filipino government announced the definitive cancellation of peace talks with the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), putting an end to 11 years of negotiations undermined by disagreements and constant episodes of violence. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's spokesman stresses that the planned agreement has been "definitively canceled", and that "the government's efforts for peace will now be addressed to individual communities or groups that truly show that they want to end the violence", which excludes the MILF from the negotiating table.

The decision of the Filipino authorities was determined by the escalation of violence seen in recent weeks in the southern part of the country, especially in Mindanao; various attacks by the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have sown death and destruction through the island, striking unarmed civilians above all.

"In the light of the latest episodes of violence committed by outlaw groups", President Arroyo affirms in a statement, "the government will not sign the Memorandum of Agreement", ending discussions about the creation of an autonomous Muslim majority region in in Mindanao, which is rich in mineral and energy resources. "It is not possible", the head of state emphasizes, "to obtain peace by following the logic of violence, of intimidation and arms".

The Catholic Church, on the contrary, continues its efforts for peace and dialogue: Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, the archbishop of Manila, has written a letter to the bishops and the ulemas (Muslim religious leaders) of Mindanao, calling upon them to "continue working and praying for peace". The letter is addressed "both to the bishops and to our Muslim brothers and sisters" on the island, struck by this "new wave of violence". "Mindanao has long been marked by the aberrant logic of arms, and there is no reason why all of this should be repeated: the way of peace is the only road to reach a stable and lasting peace", the prelate emphasizes.

Finally, the number of refugees created by the conflict continues to increase: according to the latest numbers provided by the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the number of people who have had to abandon their homes in Mindanao is about half a million. According to estimates published today by the NDCC, there are 479,223 refugees belonging to 100,024 different nuclear families. These people are in need of every kind of assistance, from food to drinking water, from clothing to shelter. The Filipino agency has also provided updated figures on casualties (66, 57 of which are civilians, 7 security agents, and 2 MILF guerrillas) and wounded (79). The most recent victims of the conflict are from last Monday, when a bomb exploded at a bus station in Digos, in the southern province of Davao, killing four people and wounding 21, some of them seriously.