Saturday, February 5, 2011

Philippines Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) splits, as top rebel commander leaves

ZAMBOANGA CITY: A top Muslim rebel commander blamed by Manila for deadly attacks in the restive southern region of Mindanao has broken away with the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Commander Umbrakato who led rebel forces in the 2008 attacks in Mindanao has taken with him several dozens of followers and talks are going on to win him back ahead of the MILF’s peace negotiations with the government. It poses a potentially major threat to formal peace talks that start in Malaysia on Wednesday with leadership of the12,000-member movement that has been waging a deadly rebellion since 1978.

News of the breakaway has alarmed the government, which told MILF leaders this could undermine the talks. Previous peace talks collapsed in 2008 after the Supreme Court outlawed a draft peace settlement that would have given the MILF control over large areas of the mineral-rich southern island of Mindanao.

The group has been fighting for an independent Muslim state on Mindanao, which makes up the southern third of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines.

The Supreme Court’s decision triggered attacks by MILF commanders on Christian communities in Mindanao.A humanitarian crisis ensued as 750,000 people fled their homes after about 400 others were killed, based on official data.While most of the displaced population have moved elsewhere or returned to rebuild ruined villages, aid workers said as of late last year several thousands remained at temporary shelters.

More than 150,000 people have died since the early 1970s because of the rebellion, according to the government.

The MILF is a 1978 splinter of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 peace treaty that won the large Muslim minority limited self-rule in four Mindanao provinces.

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