At least 10 rebels were killed in the southern Philippines hours after a hastily-put together peace deal between the government and Muslim separatists foundered. Meanwhile, thousands have fled their homes in the conflict-ridden region and there seems to be no peace in sight.
Muslims outside a mosque in the capital Manila protest against recent clashes on Mindanao
The cancellation announcement came as heavy fighting between members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, and the army continued to rage.
Several hundred MILF fighters have occupied villages in the southern part of the island of Mindanao, where the country’s biggest Muslim rebel organisation wants to establish an autonomous region.
In mid-July, after years of negotiations, the Philippine government had agreed to set up an autonomous region for Muslims in the otherwise mostly Christian nation.
Protests, dithering and scrapping
But the deal triggered protests from the powerful Christian lobby as well as from the Supreme Court, which ruled that it violated the constitution. On Thursday, after some dithering, the government scrapped the deal.
The chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Murad Ebrahim, expressed his disappointment: “We have worked on this agreement for more than four years -- this has been a very tough negotiation. It is very frustrating when you work for something for more than four years, when you have exerted all the effort and all of a sudden people just throw out this agreement, [say] it’s nothing. How can we explain it to our people?”
Dozens of people have lost their lives since the beginning of August when heavy fighting was triggered by the Supreme Court’s ruling that the autonomy deal was illegal. Over 100,000 people have since fled from southern Mindanao.
Not a “normal situation”
The national police spokesman, Nicanor Bartolome, said that in a normal situation, the MILF was an appropriate negotiation partner but he said this was not a “normal situation. They have attacked villages, they have killed people, they robbed communities. We will deal with them appropriately. The government will pursue them.”
“Observers fear that the deal’s scrapping will delay a peaceful resolution to the conflict by months, if not years.
"This can be a beginning of a war if not properly handled but there is a chance of going back to peace as long as both parties, us and the side of the government, implement utmost restraint in order to hold back the situation,” said rebel chief Murad Ebrahim.
The MILF has been fighting for more autonomy for the Muslim provinces on Mindanao since 1978. Over 100,000 people have died in the fighting.