Newspaper article International New York Times

Thousands of Filipinos Flee Strife in the South ; over 82,000 Displaced as Military Fights Islamic Rebels on Two Fronts

Newspaper article International New York Times

Thousands of Filipinos Flee Strife in the South ; over 82,000 Displaced as Military Fights Islamic Rebels on Two Fronts

Article excerpt

The fighting against Islamic militants is taking place as lawmakers are debating a bill that would formalize the provisions of a landmark peace deal reached a year ago with the country's largest rebel organization.

The military in the Philippines is fighting Islamic militants on two fronts in the country's south, with recent battles having left dozens dead and driven more than 82,000 people from their homes, according to government officials and international organizations. An aid worker said a "growing humanitarian crisis" was underway in camps for people who had fled the violence.

The intensified fighting is taking place as lawmakers in Manila are debating a bill that would formalize the provisions of a landmark peace deal reached a year ago with the country's largest rebel organization. Last March, the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front agreed to lay down their weapons in return for the creation of a Muslim-dominated autonomous region in the southern Philippines. Under the deal, the newly established area would receive a generous portion of local tax revenues.

But the deal was put in jeopardy in January when the Philippine National Police conducted a raid in the southern town of Mamasapano to capture several internationally wanted terrorism suspects. That operation, which resulted in a firefight with some members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and left 44 police officers dead, has generated harsh public criticism of the peace agreement.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has agreed to cooperate with government officials investigating the January episode. But a smaller breakaway group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which was also involved in the firefight, has rejected the peace deal and continues to fight the military. The military offensive against that splinter group has killed 73 rebels and four government soldiers in recent weeks, the military said on Monday. An estimated 82,070 people have fled their homes in Maguindanao, a province on the island of Mindanao, where the fighting is taking place, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. …

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