Thursday, December 1, 2016
Philippines' fight against Muslim insurgents is hitting a new and sticky blockade
Talks with Abu Sayyaf as well as the Maute Group, another rebel front inspired by ISIS, would be synced with a military campaign aimed at stopping more attacks like the Maute seizure of a town hall last month, Philippine media reports indicate. Battles with national armed forces to get them out of the town itself killed 11 rebels. If the negotiations worked, they would bring an all new level of security to Mindanao. It’s the country’s breadbasket and a major source of minerals. Stronger security after 45 years of strife would give Mindanao a chance jump ahead economically, easing higher-than-average poverty among its 21 million people.
But the talks probably won’t work. They might not happen at all. For one thing, Abu Sayyaf makes money for itself and a network of locals in the Sulu Sea islands west of Mindanao from kidnapping ransom. The group estimated at 400 people has easily rebuilt after attacks by government troops since it formed in 1991. It has matched Duterte’s stepped-up military campaign with a night market bombing in September and, last month, the kidnapping of two German tourists – one shot to death.
“The Abu Sayyaf Group has clearly not responded to the president’s call for negotiated settlement,” says Jay Batongbacal, associate law professor at the University of the Philippines. “I don’t believe that they will, at least not with any sincerity. For them, this is all business.”
Duterte says talks might ease the desperation of Muslim groups. “The ISIS is really dangerous,” the president told a law school alumni association in Metro Manila on Nov. 26, as quoted by local media. “That is why you have to use your head. Do not drive them to despair because that is precisely what happened in Africa.”
The president may have another motive, which points to the intractable stickiness of the Muslim separatist movement.
Abu Sayyaf has taken refuge on land controlled by another Muslim separatist group, the Moro National Liberation Front. Duterte and a faction of the Front have said they want to hold peace and autonomy-sharing talks in the same spirit that the immediate past president did with yet another Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Those talks produced an autonomy-sharing deal in 2014. The Moro National Liberation Front’s head, Nur Misuari, resented that deal (he wasn’t dealt a hand).
“Misuari wants to and, I suspect, uses the Abu Sayyaf card,” says Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Philippine advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. “If we go by his demands before, he is after a much expanded territory to include Zamboanga City and Palawan,” Casiple says, citing locations typically outside the struggle for Muslim control of land. “He has recently branded Moro Islamic Liberation Front as a traitor for agreeing to the peace agreement with government.”
By Ralph Jennings
Posted by wikisabah at 4:23:00 PM