09/17/2013, 00.00
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Mindanao: Philippine army advance on rebels , Bishops' appeal for negotiation

The prelates of the island call for a "peaceful resolution" of the crisis. Ongoing violent clashes, the military gains ground. To date 61 confirmed dead, at least 70 thousand displaced. Leaders of the Catholic Church ask for solidarity for those who suffer "whether Christian or Muslim ."

Manila ( AsiaNews) - The Filipino Catholic Church is launching fresh appeals "for negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the crisis" in Mindanao , where violent clashes between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels have been ongoing now for days. However, the "cry for peace" of the 18 bishops of the island - in the south of the country - seems to fall on deaf ears, as the violence continues . According to local sources, on the orders of President Aquino Benin the military is launching a general offensive to break the resistance of the guerrillas who, to protect themselves , are making use of civilians as human shields. An army spokesman adds that the advance is being "slowed down" in order to avoid casualties among the population, while activists of Human Rights Watch ( HRW) are already talking about "war operations" .

In recent days, all 18 of Mindanao's bishops have turned to the government and the rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front ( MNLF ) , asking them to find a " negotiated solution " to the crisis that hit the city of Zamboanga , the epicenter of the conflict. For the Filipino clergy the peace negotiations between Manila and the MILF rebels, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front , the rival MNLF movement, are behind the latest eruption of violence.

Since the start of operations against the MNLF, on September 9, the area has virtually been paralyzed and its people "are living in a state of fear. "To date, the number of dead in Zamboanga has risen to 61 , while the injured over 70 , at least 70 thousand refugees are fleeing the war, of a total population of about 800 thousand people. This morning, dozens of people managed to flee from the scene of conflict to safer areas. The guerrillas seems to be losing ground in front of the advancing army, but the military move with caution because there are still some civilians in the hands of Islamist insurgents.

"We are deeply saddened and worried by this tragedy which causes loss of life and destruction of property - said the bishops. "We express our solidarity with all those affected by this tragedy, whether Christian or Muslim." The bishops in Mindanao also strongly condemn what they call "the inhuman act", of using civilians as human shields.

Islamist insurgents in the MNLF, an Islamic separatist group established in the late 1960s, call for independence from Manila and the creation of a Muslim country in the southern island of Mindanao, which is rich in mineral resources. Despite a peace treaty signed in 1996, hostilities between rebels and central authorities still flare up from time to time in the south of the country, where separatists have split up in various groups. One group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) recently signed a draft peace deal with the government in Kuala Lumpur, but the truce has been met with scepticism by both parties , is likely to fade due to the opposition of other rebel movements that continue to foment violence and divisions in the region.


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