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Displacement and violence: The conflict in Mindanao continues

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The Philippine military has stepped up its offensive in the Mindanao region, displacing thousands of indigenous peoples. Advocates for these internally displaced people say time is running out and the military must be withdrawn.
(Bangkok, 11 December 2007) Nearly 3,000 Manobo indigenous people in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines have fled their homes due to intensified military action against the communist New People’s Army (NPA).  

The largest base of the NPA is in Mindanao and it has been the focus of the military’s latest offensive, launched in November 2007. The Manobo indigenous people have been leaving their remote villages over the past month and heading to nearby towns. The military has been using their villages as bases to launch attacks against the NPA.   

The NPA has been fighting with the government for almost forty years. It is estimated that over 40,000 people have been killed over the span of the conflict. In existence since 1969, the NPA is active in the majority of the 79 provinces in the Philippines. Today it has an estimated 8,000 members.

The conflict between the NPA and the Philippine army is only a part of the complex situation of unrest and violence in the southern Philippines. Besides the NPA, a more renowned conflict is the Muslim community’s fight for self-determination, currently being waged by armed rebel groups. The largest among these now is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which operates in Central Mindanao. A number of splinter groups from the MILF also exist, armed and each with their own agenda for the Mindanao region. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that the combined conflicts have killed over 160,000 people and displaced around 2 million.

Mindanao indigenous peoples’ (Lumad) organisations and advocates are calling for the army to leave the villages so that the Manobo people can return home. They have called on the military to stop the offensive because supplies, such as food, have been running out.  Alternative schools set up to meet educational needs of indigenous children have been occupied by military troops and this traumatised the children, exposing them to danger and denying their right to education. The governor of the province has appealed to the military to respect the people’s rights and safety.  

Years of unrest and violence in Mindanao have left over 50 percent of the civilian population in poverty and almost one-third of children malnourished. A series of failed ceasefire agreements and peace talks have left the Manobo people and others in the region in a state of insecurity and uncertain of the future.   

For more information see:
Thousands flee army offensive in Philippine south
Classes stop, residents flee due to alleged military harassment