Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Renewed Fighting In Mindanao

The unfinished challenges of nation-building and the creation of (multi)national identities remain some of the major political problems throughout Southeast Asia. Religious, regional and ethnic tensions persist in every major country in the region. The fundamental issue posed by minority groups is that they strive to defend their own visions of community and 'nation' against national visions and state systems proposed by the central authorities. These state systems have practised systematic forms of authoritarian internal colonialism. This is certainly true of Mindanao which has been subjected to the dual policy of exploitative neglect and subjugation from Manila for centuries.

The renewal of bloody fighting in Jolo - reported here, here and here - comes as no great surprise. In a feature common to much of the factionalism and micro-politics of separatist struggles there are two groups involved:
rebels loyal to the separatist leader Nur Misuari who used to head the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which signed a peace treaty with the Philippine government in 1996; and an armed Muslim group Abu Sayyaf - an allegedly al-Qaeda linked organisation - which is also has ties with the Misuari faction.

Misuari became governor of a Muslim autonomous region until he was replaced in 2001. He was arrested four years ago and has been held at a police camp near Manila ever since after leading a failed revolt in Jolo to protest against his sacking. T
his has continued to be a major source of resentment among his loyalists. For its part, Abu Sayyaf is better understood not as a ideologically-driven group of Islamists but a bunch of kidnappers and extortionists who compete with corrupt local politicians in a turf war for control of the string of islands that stretch from Mindanao down to Sabah. Religion or the rule of the righteous have very little to do with it.

Meanwhile, successive governments in Manila and the influential, corrupt Philippine military pursue a dead-end policy of all out war.

There are some hopeful signs. Next month the leaders of the main separatist movement, the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), will resume talks with the government here in Kuala Lumpur. These are the most serious efforts yet to come to a viable solution to this intractable problem. The MILF has already tactically conceded a great deal to get this far. The ball is in Manila's court.


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