Britain urges stop to Philippine rebel attacks
MANILA – Britain called on Philippine Muslim rebels Monday to end attacks that have killed 35 since last week, and backed President Benigno Aquino III’s stand to press ahead with peace talks.
British ambassador Stephen Lillie said the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) must show they were committed to the talks and order its commanders on the ground to silence their guns.
He also bucked growing calls from some politicians for Aquino to abandon the negotiations and launch an all-out war against the 12,000-strong MILF.
“I am seriously concerned by the reports of ambushes by MILF members in different parts of Mindanao over the past week,” Lillie said in a statement.
“The current spate of ambushes must stop,” he added.
But he warned that meeting violence with violence could “likely lead to a downward spiral of killing, with untold misery and suffering for innocent civilians.”
Britain is a member of the so-called International Contact Group that is monitoring and supporting the peace talks.
Aquino has come under increasing pressure from restive military officers and critics to suspend a ceasefire with the MILF after week-long attacks saw the biggest flare-up of violence in years.
Nineteen special forces were gunned down October 18 after they strayed into an MILF territory on Basilan island province while going after a rogue rebel commander.
Two days later, eight soldiers and policemen were killed in similar attacks elsewhere in the south, while on Sunday, five rubber plantation workers and three soldiers were murdered.
About 200 MILF fighters fleeing a government manhunt meanwhile occupied two elementary schools in remote farming villages at the weekend, stealing cattle and harassing the residents.
The MILF has waged a rebellion since the 1970s in Mindanao, the country’s southern third which is considered an ancestral homeland by the minority Muslims.
The rebellion has claimed about 150,000 lives, and stunted efforts to develop the mineral-rich southern region.
A ceasefire signed in 2003 paved the way for peace talks between the MILF and the government, but the truce is often marred by violence and the talks are currently at an impasse.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.