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Wednesday, Jul. 05, 2006 at 8:42 AM
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Pesante-USA/AJLPP joins the people of Mindanao in their urgent call to stop the US-Arroyo Regime's war against the people. “They are suffering and they want the fighting stopped,” Ruby Sahali, social welfare secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said of the more than 4,000 families displaced by fighting between militiamen and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Maguindanao.The evacuees came from the towns of Shariff Aguak, where the hostilities started last week, and from Mamasapano, Datu Piang, Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi, Ampatuan, Sultan sa Barongis and SK Pendatun towns, where it spread.
Stop the war, Maguindanao folk cry
By Edwin Fernandez
Last updated 00:26am (Mla time) 07/05/2006
Published on Page A16 of the July 5, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
COTABATO CITY—“They are suffering and they want the fighting stopped,” Ruby Sahali, social welfare secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said of the more than 4,000 families displaced by fighting between militiamen and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Maguindanao.
The evacuees came from the towns of Shariff Aguak, where the hostilities started last week, and from Mamasapano, Datu Piang, Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi, Ampatuan, Sultan sa Barongis and SK Pendatun towns, where it spread.
Sahali said most of the displaced families had received food packages from her office and from ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.
“I know our assistance is not enough,” she said. “We hope the conflict will be resolved very soon so they (evacuees) can return home.”
Classes have been suspended. Farmers, who had to leave their farms behind, fear losing their harvest.
Most of the refugees are housed in various evacuation sites.
Gen. Ramon Santos, chief of the government’s ceasefire panel, said efforts were under way to separate the warring groups—Moro rebels and armed civilian volunteers, most of them supported by their mayors.
Santos said normalcy would only return if the MILF turned over two field commanders, Sajid Pakiladato and Ombra Kato, who were implicated in the June 23 bomb attack on Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.
“If the MILF hands them over, they will be subjected to investigation under the provisions of the ceasefire agreement,” he said.
But Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, said the government should first “conduct an impartial investigation” of the two MILF leaders.
“They must know first who really perpetrated the bombing,” he said
The MILF leadership has declared that it remains committed to the ongoing peace initiative, despite the setback.
Santos, who met earlier with Ampatuan, said the governor wanted the fighting to end “because in the end, I as the governor will still address the needs of the affected people, be they MILF or not because they are all my constituents.”
Santos refused to say which group was at fault. “Our job is to separate the warring groups.”
The two groups are still trading bullets and mortar bombs sporadically. Commuters in the national highway can still hear loud explosions from the Liguasan Marsh, site of the battle.
The MILF has declared a unilateral ceasefire and fighting has eased the past 48 hours.
Santos said the conflict has put the peace deal “to a test.”
“This, somewhat, is a learning process for everyone,” he said, adding that because of the clashes, they managed to identify the weaknesses in implementing an initial peace deal.
Even if the fighting has somehow eased, the evacuees refused to return to their homes. “We can’t force them, they have nowhere to go to,” Sahali said. “In the meantime, we are addressing their immediate needs.”
Foreign and local relief agencies, like the Philippine National Red Cross, International Committee of the Red Cross and Oxfam, have started arriving at the refugee sites to ensure that the health situation will not deteriorate.
Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of the Mindanao Peoples Caucus and deputy director of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, called on President Macapagal-Arroyo to “decisively and immediately put a stop to the war going on in Maguindanao.”
“Stop the war, save the evacuees,” Arnado said. “It’s a serious threat if we are not able to address it and this would develop into a new war.”
She called on the religious and civic communities to intervene.
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