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ICC Note: After years of violence towards Christians, the hometown of the al-Qaeda linked militant group Abu Sayyaf is uniting with its Christian residents to jointly host the first ‘Pangalay festival’. This is a step in the right direction and it is proof that it is possible for Muslims and Christians to co-exist peacefully. The hope is that this event will set an example and news of it will spread to other hostile areas.

Adnki (7/16/06) – For the very first time, the Muslim majority town of Jolo, capital of the Filipino province of Sulu, will be united with its Christian residents, after its officials agreed to jointly host the first ‘Pangalay – traditional folk dance – festival,’ and the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – Jolo’s saint patron, on July 15-16. Solo is also the hometown of the al-Qaeda linked militant group Abu Sayyaf. Jolo Mayor Alkramier Izquierdo explained to Adnkronos International (AKI) the importance of the event for the area, renowned as a stronghold of Muslim rebels and Islamic terrorists.

“It is about time that we changed the image of our town and our province in general. And this festivity will be a very good venue where our Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters can share on this beautiful and promising province,” he said.

The positive step comes after local Muslim and Christian populations have been divided by years of violence.

Located at the extreme south of the Philippines , the mostly Muslim Sulu archipelago is a cluster of islets that link the southern Filipino island of Mindanao to the Indonesia-Malaysia shared island of Borneo .

The archipelago is a well-know stronghold of several militant groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), who have been fighting for self-determination and independence against the government forces for almost four decades. Caught in the cross-fire, civilians – and in particular Christian settlers – have been the victims of these hostilities.

Christians have also been the prime target of Sulu-born and al-Qaeda linked terrorist organization, Abu Sayyaf, which is renowned for its ferocity and beheadings. The al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah militant group is also believed to be present in the islands.

The two terrorist organization are believed to be responsible for a series of attacks, including the one that killed nine and injured dozens with a powerful explosion in a grocery store, just a few meters from the Jolo Cathedral, in March.

Yet, mayor Izquirdo hoped that the festival could be a first step towards a safer future and an opportunity to show the world a better facet of the archipelago.

“This is the right time that we can prove to them that Sulu is a safe place to live and its people are really friendly and hospitable to others,” he said.

Explaining more about the festival, the mayor said that it is anchored on the theme ‘Paghambuuk Sin Raayat ika Sambu Sin Daira Sug’ – Unity of the population towards the welfare of Sulu – and that it is meant to establish strong connections among locals, regardless of religious differences…[Go To Full Story]