09/10/2013, 00.00
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Church in Zamboanga: Like Pope Francis, we pray for peace between the army and Islamists

Amid violent clashes between Philippine troops and rebels , Catholics have launched appeals for reconciliation . The partial toll is six dead - including civilians - and 24 wounded. The fundamentalists seize more than 200 civilians and demand independence . In the city churches stay open to welcome Christian and Muslim refugees .

Zamboanga ( AsiaNews / CBCP ) - The leadership of the Catholic Church in Zamboanga , southern Philippines , theater of yesterday's violent clashes between government forces and Islamist groups rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front ( MNLF ) , have launched appeals for peace and reconciliation. Taking a cue from Pope Francis' words regarding a possible attack on Syria , Msgr. Guillermo Afable - Bishop of Digos - calls for prayer to help avert an escalation of the conflict. He adds that an armed conflict "is not a harbinger of peace, but only serves to cause further violence." "As Pope Francis said - added the prelate - we continue to pray for peace in the world, because all these conflicts are connected together and the work of evil".

At least six people were killed in the clashes, including a police officer, a naval officer and four civilians, with 24 injured , some of them seriously . The rebel group kidnapped dozens of civilians as hostages and have set conditions for their release, first of all the independence of the region from the Philippine government . Incidents of violence between the two sides continue even today and the situation is unlikely to improve.

An appeal for peace was also launched by Msgr. Crisologo Manongas , apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga , that " dialogue and negotiations " are the only way to put an end to the conflict in Mindanao . Schools and offices are closed because of the violence, the prelate adds, the city and the entire province are on maximum alert. Even the cathedral risks being raided by extremist elements. "This is not a conflict of a religious nature - the prelate says - but a clash of a political nature ," and the government should not give in to blackmail , but start negotiations

Filipino Church leaders condemn the recent violence in the south of the archipelago , which targets innocent people including children. They appeal to the MNLF leadership, to "lay down their arms." Finally , Msgr. Manongas recalls that churches of the archdiocese "are open , both for Christians and for Muslims " affected by the attack.

The Islamist insurgents of the MNLF , facing Islamic separatist born in the late '60s, calling for independence from Manila and the creation of a Muslim country in the southern island of Mindanao , the resource-rich groundwater. Despite a peace treaty signed in 1996 , hostilities between the rebels and the central authorities have continued to mark the south of the country on and off, even leading to the split of the independence front in smaller groups . Among them, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF ) has signed a draft peace with Manila to Kuala Lumpur in recent months , and this truce , met with skepticism by both parties , is likely to fade as a result of today's attacks .



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