ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Peace between government and Muslim separatists more difficult after militants of Abu Sayyaf terrorist group were killed when police intervened to suppress Manila prison revolt

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

Manila (Fides Service) - What happened in a Manila prison yesterday could complicate relations between Muslim groups in the Philippines and the government. On March 14 militants of the Islamic fundamentalist group Abu Sayyaf led a prisoners’ revolt. After hours of unsuccessful negotiations police forces intervened and in the ensuing clashes 22 detainees were killed including three leading members of Abu Sayyaf and six policemen wounded.
Abu Sayyaf is a small group which operates in the south of the Philippines with kidnapping and hostage taking. The group claimed responsibility for bomb explosions which shook the country on 14 February. Abu Sayyaf is on US state department list of terrorist groups. Following the prison episode the group promised to “bring the war to the capital”, accusing the government of discriminating against the Muslim minority.
In the Philippines Father Eliseo Mercado an expert on the situation in Mindanao said with regard to this latest development: “In relations with Muslims president Arroyo is following a line to guarantee maximum popularity and today an action of force is popular. She is backing the iron fist approach to rebels championed by internal minister Angelo Reyes. Muslims see the prison episode as retaliation for the St Valentine attacks and so their threats would seem to be serious and credible. They are convinced there is no justice in the legal system for them, only repression. This makes rapprochement with the government difficult, it builds a wall, it undermines trust and hope. It plays the game of the radicals who want war not dialogue as we see in the Sulu Islands. Today we must try to separate the moderates from the extremists, and avoid labelling all Muslims in the south as terrorists. In the meantime the war in Jolo continues and I fear that after this episode, it will be much more difficult to speak about negotiations”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 16/3/2005 righe 34 parole 347)