Int’l group slams US-backed security operations

THE United States-backed security operations in Mindanao may push the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group to the bosoms of the larger Islamic insurgent groups.

An international conflict and resolution non-government organization (NGO) said, “The US and the Philippines need to refocus energies on peace processes in Mindanao or they risk new hostilities between government forces and insurgents.”

The “Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs. Counter-terrorism in Mindanao,” the latest report from ICG warns that US-backed security operations in the southern Philippines are confusing counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism and risk pushing the Abu Sayyaf group — their target — into the arms of the broader insurgencies in Mindanao — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

“The ‘Mindanao model’ of combining military operations with civic action operations against the Abu Sayyaf has been widely heralded as a success, but the gains could be short-lived”, said Kit Collier, a consultant for Crisis Group.

“The model involves using counter-insurgency techniques for counter-terrorism goals, but the only way the Philippines will effectively manage domestic terrorism is to secure the cooperation of the MILF and MNLF – and that requires concrete progress toward formal peace agreements,” he added.

The government has forged a final peace deal with the MNLF in 1996 but there have been provisions still unimplemented, which the Organization of Islamic Conference is trying to settle.

On the other hand, peace talks with the MILF have been snagged by the ancestral domain issue.

ICG said the urgency of finalizing agreements [with the MILF] is even more acute since the Malaysian government announced last month that it was withdrawing from an international monitoring team that has kept the lid on conflict in Mindanao since 2004.

The report also urges the Philippines government to revive the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (Ahjag).

Designed to facilitate information sharing between the Philippine government and the MILF, Ahjag was critical to the prevention of conflict escalation in 2005-2007 as the search for terrorists intensified, the report added.

After a six-month hiatus, its mandate was formally extended in November 2007 but is not yet fully restored.

A similar arrangement should be developed with the MNLF.

But the leadership of both insurgencies will only be willing to provide information on terrorists in their midst as part of a political endgame, and the Philippines government is stalling, while the US appears more focused on economic aid than political agreements, the report said.

“The number of terrorists in the Philippines is small relative to the mass-based insurgencies in which they take cover”, said John Virgoe, Crisis Group’s South East Asia director.

“But the ASG and its allies remain dangerous because of their potential to drag the MILF and MNLF back into war,” he added. (BSS) (SunStarGenSan)

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