Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

President Rodrigo Duterte, political leaders and officials flash the peace sign following Friday’s oath-taking ceremony in Manila. (AP)
Updated 22 February 2019
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Filipino rebel chiefs become officials under peace deal

  • It is a very difficult and challenging process, says MILF spokesman

MANILA: Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn in Friday as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest-raging rebellions.

President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five-province region called Bangsamoro.

About 12,000 combatants with thousands of firearms are to be demobilized starting this year under the peace deal.  Thousands of other guerrillas would disarm if agreements under the deal would be followed, including providing the insurgents with livelihood to help them return to normal life.

“We would like to see an end of the violence,” Duterte said. 

“After all, we go to war and shoot each other counting our victories not by the progress or development of the place but by the dead bodies that were strewn around during the violent years.”

About 150,000 people have died in the conflict over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich region. 

Duterte promised adequate resources, a daunting problem in the past.

The Philippine and Western governments and the guerrillas see an effective Muslim autonomy as an antidote to nearly half a century of secessionist violence, which Daesh could exploit to gain a foothold.

“The dream that we have fought for is now happening and there’s no more reason for us to carry our guns and continue the war,” rebel forces spokesman Von Al-Haq said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.

Several commanders long wanted for deadly attacks were given safety passes to be able to travel to Manila and join the ceremony, including Abdullah Macapaar, who uses the nom de guerre Commander Bravo, Al-Haq said. 

Known for his fiery rhetoric while wearing his camouflage uniform and brandishing his assault rifle and grenades, Macapaar will be one of the 41 regional administrators from the rebel front.

Duterte will pick his representatives to fill the rest of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which will also act as a regional Parliament with Murad as the chief minister until regular officials are elected in 2022.

Members of the Moro National Liberation Front, which signed a 1996 autonomy deal that has largely been seen as a failure, will also be given seats in the autonomous government.

Disgruntled fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front broke off and formed new armed groups, including the notorious Abu Sayyaf, which turned to terrorism and banditry after losing its commanders early in battle. 

The Abu Sayyaf has been blacklisted by the US as a terrorist organization and has been suspected of staging a suspected Jan. 27 suicide bombing that killed 23 mostly churchgoers in a Roman Catholic cathedral on southern Jolo island.

“We have already seen the pitfalls,” Al-Haq said, acknowledging that the violence would not stop overnight because of the presence of the Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups, some linked to Daesh. 

“It’s a very difficult and challenging process.”


Australian PM welcomes ‘moderation’ from Erdogan

Updated 8 min 36 sec ago
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Australian PM welcomes ‘moderation’ from Erdogan

  • Scott Morrison sees President Erdogan's column in the Washington Post as an "overnight progress"
  • The Turkish president had earlier painted the Christchurch attack as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday welcomed some “moderation” in President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.
Trying to take the sting out of a diplomatic row that has threatened relations between Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, Morrison pointed to a recent Erdogan column in the Washington Post as progress.
“Overnight, progress has been made on this issue and overnight we’ve already seen a moderation of the president’s views,” Morrison said, citing the article in which Erdogan stepped away from direct criticism of New Zealand.
The Turkish leader — who is in full campaign mode ahead of local elections — still used the article to accuse Western countries of meeting Islamophobia with “silence.”
But Morrison took it as a diplomatic off-ramp nonetheless.
Morrison — who is also in full campaign mode, ahead of a general election — had on Wednesday pilloried Erdogan for his comments in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, describing them as “reckless” and “highly offensive.”
Erdogan has repeatedly used video footage of the massacre shot by the attacker who killed 50 people and painted the attack it as part of an assault on Turkey and Islam.
He had also warned that anti-Muslim Australians and New Zealanders would be “sent back in coffins” like their grandfathers at Gallipoli, a blood-drenched WWI battle.
His office on Wednesday said the remarks were taken out of context.
More than 8,000 Australians died fighting Turkish forces at Gallipoli, which has a prominent place in Australia’s collective memory.
Morrison had summoned the Turkish ambassador over the comments, dismissing the “excuses” offered and warning that relations were under review.
“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn,” he said.

Rambling manifesto
The gunman’s so-called “manifesto” — a 70-plus page rambling question and answer — mentions Turkey and the minarets of Istanbul’s famed Hagia Sophia, now a museum, that was once a church before becoming a mosque during the Ottoman empire.
Three Turkish nationals were wounded in the rampage that killed 50 worshippers at the mosques in the southern New Zealand city.
“President #Erdogan’s words were unfortunately taken out of context,” Fahrettin Altun, communications director for the Turkish presidency, claimed on Twitter.
Altun said Erdogan’s comments were in “a historical context of attacks against Turkey, past and present.”
“Turks have always been the most welcoming & gracious hosts to their #Anzac visitors,” he added, referring to Australian and New Zealand veterans and families who are expected to travel there for the anniversary on April 25.
Erdogan has built his political base on being a champion of Muslim Turks. For most of the last century, the country’s government has been avowedly secular.
Like leaders in Iran and Russia, Erdogan has also played on a sense that Turkey — the inheritor of the once-mighty Ottoman Empire — has not been given enough respect on the international stage.
Erdogan had earlier been sharply rebuked by New Zealand for his comments and for using gruesome video shot by the Christchurch mosque gunman as an election campaign prop.
New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters protested on Monday that such politicization of the massacre “imperils the future and safety of the New Zealand people and our people abroad, and it’s totally unfair.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has sent Peters to Istanbul to meet with Turkish leaders on the issue this week.
In the Washington Post article Erdogan praised Ardern’s “courage, leadership and sincerity” in handling the crisis.