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Villagers arm against Philippine rebels

ICC Note:

Fear of continued attacks by Muslim rebel extremists have pushed some majority Christian villages in the Philippines to take up arms. Although militias are being discouraged on a national level, local police have encouraged villages to take up arms and even asked the army for ammunition to help arm civilians.


9/30/08 Philippines (FinancialTimesUK)

When the shooting stopped, the villagers in the southern Philippine province of Mindanao began burying their dead amid an unsettling fear that the killers could return without warning.

The hundreds of rebels who killed 42 residents of the largely Christian town of Kolambugan and burned their homes were suspected members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front angry at delays in the implementation of a peace agreement with the government. They had escaped deep into the jungle by the time the police arrived on the scene of the mid-August attack.

“For now, we are safe,” said Bertand Lumaque, Kolambugan’s mayor. “We are being guarded by no less than the police special action force” flown in from Manila. “But what happens when [the forces] leave?”

The answer for the people of Kolambugan has been to arm themselves.

Nicanor Bartolome, the spokesman of the Philippine National Police, said police were discouraging the formation of militias. Police offered to distribute thousands of shotguns to “police auxiliaries”, civilians who would be trained and organised under the command of town police chiefs. But the offer was largely ignored as most people in the conflict-hit rural areas where firearms are already common thought the shotguns would be no match for the rebels’ more powerful weapons.

Still, local government officials are calling on Christian villages to form militias, and in North Cotabato province, where recent clashes between government troops and Moro rebels first erupted, officials have asked the army for ammunition to give to civilians.

Some majority Christian villages are choosing a more peaceful route, such as unarmed patrols, fearing that the presence of armed civilians could invite attacks or reprisals from Moro rebels.

“We are taking precautions by moving women and children every night to a nearby evacuation centre,” a village chief in Tulunan town in North Cotabato told the Financial Times by phone. “We have good relations with nearby Muslim communities and are hoping they will dissuade the MILF rebels from attacking us.”

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