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Philippines: Thousands suffering impact of shattered peace talks

400,000 displaced, over 100 civilians killed and 140 people taken hostage

The suspension of the peace talks between the government of the Philippines and insurgents in the southern island of Mindanao has left hundreds of thousands of civilians living in fear for their lives and their futures, Amnesty International revealed in a new report today.

Amnesty International representatives travelled to Mindanao during the onset of heavy fighting in August to research the conflict, where they interviewed staff from local organisations.

The report highlights human rights abuses carried out since the breakdown of peace negotiations, including:
· the deaths of at least 100 civilians since August, some deliberately targeted by Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) fighters
· some 140 men, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights taken hostage
· almost 400,000 people living in displacement camps, having left their homes, and often crops and livestock as well, as they fled fighting. Many homes have been burnt, and possessions stolen, reportedly by both the MILF and the Philippine army.
· the activities of untrained and unaccountable civilian militias

The recent escalation in violence followed the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision to block implementation of a Memorandum of Agreement between the government and the MILF in August. The agreement was part of the ongoing peace process to halt the four decade long conflict.

Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific deputy director, said:

“The MILF and local groups opposing the peace talks have used violence as a negotiating strategy and hundreds of thousands of people are paying the price.”

Amnesty International spoke to a local human rights worker about the deaths of a 94-year-old man, Miguel Daitia and his son Ruben 33, reportedly killed by the MILF on 18 August: “They used a large rock to destroy the lock, and then they went in and took the men. There were three of them, including the 94 year-old. They killed them. They asked the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in the house to leave. Once they left, the MILF fighters burned the house. They burned 22 houses in that neighbourhood in Lapayan, Kauswagan town.”

In Lanao del Norte province, a 15-year-old farmer was brutally killed by security forces just days being he was due to get married. He was trying to raise money for his dowry and could not miss the harvest so he took the risk of going to an area of military operations.

Together with another farmer, the teenager was walking with his horse to harvest corn from his village when they came across a group of soldiers who threatened them. The other farmer ran away in panic but soldiers pursued the 15-year-old, hit him on the head and he fell into a ravine. He was later found in a ditch, his body marked with around 30 hack wounds. His family immediately buried him and went into hiding.

Donna Guest said:

“The Philippine government and the MILF must clarify to both their commanders, and to their rank-and-file forces that attacks on civilians will not be tolerated, and see that anyone suspected of carrying out such violations is removed from their position, or from a situation where abuses might happen again. Otherwise, the picture for the people of Mindanao remains bleak if they continue to be targeted.”

On 4 August 2008, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), a previously “initialled” document. In the days following this order, MILF fighters launched attacks against civilians in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Saranggani provinces. On 14 October the Supreme Court ruled that the MOA-AD was unconstitutional. The conflict concerns the autonomy of Muslims in the southern Philippines.

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