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카톨릭성직자, 필리핀남부지역의 지속적 폭력사태에 경각심

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2000-03-17 00:17
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Catholic priest fears that violence will continue in southern
Philippines
ENI-00-0084

By Sophie Lizares-Bodegon
Manila, 8 March (ENI)--Violence is likely to continue in at
least four southern provinces of the Philippines which have big
Muslim populations, despite a second round of peace talks between
the government and secessionist rebels, according to a prominent
Roman Catholic priest.

Almost 75 000 people have been displaced since January following
clashes between military troops and guerillas of the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF), the biggest rebel movement in Mindanao
island, 1000 kilometres from the Philippines capital, Manila.
Although the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country,
several of its southern provinces are mainly Muslim. Arab traders
brought Islam to Philippines in the 13th century.

The conflict again grabbed national attention last week when at
least 36 people were reported killed and 49 others wounded in a
series of bombings carried out by MILF guerrillas. In the wake of
the bombings, however, peace talks reopened between the rebels
and the government of President Joseph Estrada. The two sides
have also declared a cease-fire.

However, Eliseo Mercado, a 52-year-old Roman Catholic priest who
is helping to monitor the cease-fire, said that he was
pessimistic about the talks. "We must prepare for the worst,"
said Mercado, adding that the Estrada government had "no vision"
for the peace process, which he described as "directionless and
ambiguous".

Among the buildings hit by mortar was a radio station run by an
order of priests, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Cotabato
City, Maguindanao province.

Most of the 36 dead were passengers travelling in two buses.

The cease-fire was unlikely to hold, according to Mercado, given
a continuing build-up in military and MILF forces.

Mercado has been designated chair of the independent
cease-fire-monitoring committee by the Philippines Government and
MILF. He was speaking at a briefing of the trustees of the
non-governmental Ecumenical Commission for Displaced Families and
Communities (ECDFC), which runs relief and rehabilitation
programmes in Mindanao.

According to ECDFC records, 50 683 families (about 303 800
people) were displaced last year from 148 villages in 26
incidents. Eleven incidents from January to mid-February this
year raised the number of displaced families by 12 473.

"This is the largest number of evacuees in 15 years," said
Lourdes Go-Zurbano, ECDFC's executive director.

Refugees have sought shelter in government schools, open spaces,
and in town markets. Some are now living with relatives. "For
many of these [people], evacuating has become a part of life,"
said Tsaris Medina-Salgado, of ECDFC.

Relief workers are at a loss on how to deal with the evacuees.
"We hardly get to put up emergency housing for the refugees, then
these are bombed too," said Go-Zurbano.

The MILF claims to hold 26 "territories" in the southern
Philippines, 10 of which the government concedes are held by the
guerillas.

Reacting to the latest bombings, Philippines Defence Secretary,
Orlando Mercado, said: "There are people instigating the
Christian community to go after the Muslims. Let us not allow
this to degenerate into a Muslim-Christian conflict."

However, MILF spokesman Al Haj Murad has been quoted as saying
that military and police officials were creating a war scenario
in Mindanao to oust President Estrada and justify a military
takeover of the country. He said that the MILF had taken into its
custody three government infiltrators allegedly responsible for
the recent bomb attacks.

Such claims have been dismissed as "fantasy" by military
authorities who have announced plans to enter MILF territory to
hunt down eight MILF suspects.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the
Catholic Bishops' Conference are organising a joint peace
committee to mediate in the conflict.