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Philippine Government resumes peace talks over Mindanao

How do you feel about MILF love? On the Philippine island of Mindanao, it's a matter of life or death. After 6 months of sporadic fighting which hasdisplaced over 500,000 people, the Philippine government is resuming talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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How do you feel about MILF love? On the Philippine island of Mindanao, it's a matter of life or death. After 6 months of sporadic fighting which hasdisplaced over 500,000 people, the Philippine government is resuming talks with the MILF. Thankfully the government is not dealing with an American Pie-meets-Godzilla creation; the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is fighting for an autonomous homeland for the Moro Muslim Filipino ethnic group. Such a 'homeland' exists, although it's autonomy is debatable. Full commencement of peace talks are set to resume as soon as the Malaysian led International Monitoring Team is ready. Last August, the government came close to signing a peace deal and increasing the independence of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARM), but the MILF refused to meet the government's demands. Then, the Supreme Court's ruled that the peace deal unconstitutional anyway.

So with the MILF fighting for it's ARM and the government preferring constitutionally sound violence to unconstitutional peace, over 500,000 are left to deal with shellshock and swindlers. During the height of MILF/Government fighting ,The Children's Rehabilitation Centre reported that an increasing number of women and children were suffering from "psychological trauma" . Those who remain in the area are living in a tropical paradise where, in the words of one member of the Asian Human Rights Commission; "deaths are normal occurrences and have become a way of life". For the farmers of the island "being awakened by gunshots and loud explosions in the middle of the night is comparable to an alarm activated in a clock".

Those who have left the area face a different kind of threat. Conditions in the Mindanao's evacuation centre are cramped and often ill-policed, with some families finding themselves drifting from centre to centre. Islanders who move further away are at risk of being tricked into lowly paid work in situations where migrant labour laws occupy a "grey area". Unfortunately for the those trapped in the "grey area", Mindanao faces more than just the MILF to restore peace. The militant communist group the New People's Army and the militant Islamic group Abu Sayyaf are carving out their own insurgencies. It's little wonder the director of a Philippine tank worries the island "might end up becoming the Darfur of South East Asia".

Ironically, last week representatives from Sudan visited the area to facilitate talks between the Philippine government and MILF. Diplomats and peace advisers who took part in the Northern Island peace process have also visited the Philippines to discuss negotiations with the countries warring insurgencies. Is MILF love far off? The people of Mindanao can only hope.

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