Misuari partisans seek help from Muslim world

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By Mama Gubal, Special to Arab News

Published — Tuesday 27 November 2001

Last Update 27 November 2001 3:00 am

COTABATO CITY, 27 November — The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction of Nur Misuari yesterday sought help from the Muslim Ummah against attacks by government forces against Muslims in the southern Philippines.

In a press statement e-mailed to Arab News, the faction said Misuari was calling especially on the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to "condemn in the strongest degree the senseless, barbaric and indiscriminate attack(s)" going on in the southern province of Sulu.

"The attack has been done in the holy month of Ramadan," said the statement issued by the Bureau of Public Information of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where Misuari was governor until his suspension after his followers launched an armed uprising in the island of Jolo on Nov. 19.

More than a hundred of Misuari’s men were reportedly killed on that day, the third day of Ramadan, when they attacked six army camps, including a brigade’s headquarters in Jolo town on the same island.

Misuari was subsequently arrested on Saturday by authorities in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, where he fled after the revolt.

He is now in a jail in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on charges of illegal entry.

Philippine officials have also charged Misuari in court with cases of rebellion and abuse of authority.

The Philippine government had said Misuari launched the uprising in an attempt to stop the polls in the five-province ARMM to elect his successor.

The polls went ahead as scheduled yesterday, with the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo backing Parouk Hussin, a candidate of another faction of the MNLF.

Hussin was one of Misuari’s allies who formed themselves into a 15-member committee and replaced Misuari as MNLF chairman last May.

The committee had said they took action because Misuari had become an ineffective in pushing forward the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people.

Misuari had also been accused of his own constituents in the ARMM of misgovernance since he became regional governor after signing a peace agreement with the national government on Sept. 2, 1996.

Misuari’s faction yesterday insisted that he was a victim of "conspiracy and betrayal" involving the national government.

No related to polls

In the statement, the faction also denied that the renewed fighting in Jolo was a result of Misuari’s objection to the election.

It quoted Misuari as saying his group does not want to "dip its fingers in the ARMM elections because it is a unilateral act of the Philippine government, which is a gross and blatant violation" of the 1996 peace agreement.

"… the resumption of the war in Mindanao is a result of the betrayal of the Philippine government to its international binding commitments and obligations in the peace accord," the statement said.

The group reminded OIC member nations that in a series of resolutions that they had passed, they called on the Philippine government not to unilaterally implement the peace agreement.

"Instead, it should provide all necessary peace and development initiatives in Mindanao in order to give conducive atmosphere for the people to decide wisely on the establishment of the autonomy," the statement added.

It said that because of Misuari’s criticisms of the government’s failure to honor its commitment, the "harsh" government of President Arroyo "conspired with few former MNLF officials who called themselves the executive council of 15 to unseat and saw dissension among the rank and file of the MNLF organization."

"The Philippine government, for years, continued to malign the MNLF chairman with all their concocted lies and fabricated charges of corruption and mismanagement," the statement said.

Misuari’s rivals in the MNLF have maintained that the revolt he mounted was an act of self-preservation that did not have the support of majority of the MNLF membership.

Parouk Hussin claimed that those who joined the Jolo revolt were "MNLF outsiders."

Sulu provincial governor Yusoph Jikiri, the MNLF’s former military chief of staff, alleged that Misuari’s men even teamed up with the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group in attacking government forces, including MNLF fighters who were integrated into the military as part of the 1996 peace agreement.

MILF spokesman

In the province of Maguindanao, the spokesman of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) yesterday said it was against a plan by Malaysia to deport Misuari to face charges in a Philippine court.

Eid Kabalu did not explain the reason for his objection, although he had earlier said that it was only proper for the Philippine government to order Misuari’s arrest since "he committed the attack while still connected with the government."

"I think it was only proper. He committed a crime while holding a position in the government," he said.

Kabalu also noted that Misuari had been considered by the Malaysian as threat to national security.

He cited reports that Misuari was being implicated by the Malaysian authorities in the kidnapping of foreign tourists and Malaysian nationals in the Sabah resort of Sipadan last year.

He also noted reports saying that "the perpetrators were all Tausug from Jolo" and "some of them are even closely related to him (Misuari."

Kabalu admitted that Misuari still commanded a big following in the Muslim community but added that his escaping to Sabah was "stupid" because Misuari knew that Malaysia "was hostile to him."

After his ouster as MNLF chairman, Misuari had offered to join forces with the MILF in pursuing the path of separatism.

But the MILF, which is currently talking peace with Manila, had been cautious about the offer, saying only in vague terms that the two groups could cooperate in ways that would redound to the betterment of Muslims in the Philippines.

The MILF, which split from Misuari’s group in 1978 over policy differences, is now the biggest Muslim revolutionary group in the Philippines.

Malaysia

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian police yesterday refused to address claims by Philippine officials Misuari was being questioned in connection with the Sipadan kidnappings last year.

President Arroyo’s spokesman Rigoberto Tiglao said on Sunday that Malaysia wishes to question Misuari in connection to a kidnapping on the Malaysian island of Sipadan last year.

But Malaysia’s police spokesman Samsuddin Ali gave no indication when Malaysia would deport Misuari to the Philippines.

"As far as we are concerned, he was detained for illegal entry," Samsuddin said. "We are conducting an investigation for illegal entry, that’s all. We want to hand him over to the Philippine government."

Samsuddin gave no details where Misuari has been held since his arrest, or when he would be deported.

On Sunday, President Arroyo has said she will not object if Misuari spends time in a Malaysian jail first. Manila’s ambassador, Jose Brillantes, said that the timing was up to Malaysia.

But veteran Malaysian opposition leader Lim Kit Siang urged immediate deportation so that "Misuari does not become a magnet for disaffected Filipino Muslim elements."

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