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EU gives funds for clearing farm lands

The place is filled with unexploded bombs in south

Gulf News

Manila: A Swiss non-government organisation signed a $700,000 contract with the European Union (EU) to clean up in 2013 a 450,000 hectares of farmlands, dubbed as killing fields, because they were filled up with unexploded bombs in the southern Philippines, site of five decades of armed struggle waged by Filipino-Muslim rebels who wanted to establish independent Islamic state there, EU said in a statement.

The Swiss Foundation for Mine Action and the EU signed the contract last October, after the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) inked a framework agreement in Malaysia, which was formally signed at Manila’s Malacanang, the presidential palace on October 15, said EU ambassador to the Philippines Guy Ledoux.

Efforts to clear live bombs at farms in Mindanao will help about 800,000 displaced residents there to undertake livelihood projects, said Ledoux, adding the farmlands to be cleared will help hundreds of thousands of people because it is four times as big as Hong Kong.

“Both the MILF and the Philippine Army have signified they are ready to implement it,” said Ledoux, adding that both parties would participate in the EU-funded project.

The project targets mortar shells and unexploded artillery, not necessarily land mines, which were exchanged both by MILF fighters and government soldiers for almost five decades, said Ledoux.

Hundreds were reportedly slain in southern Philippines killing fields. Members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), the armed wing of the 45-year old Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), also dumped bombs in the said southern killing fields, another source said.

The 12,000-strong MILF and the Philippine government agreed to perfect a political settlement that would expand an existing autonomous region for Filipino Muslims, with two more Muslim-dominated cities, six more Muslim-dominated municipalities, and 730 Muslim-dominated villages – for enhanced power and wealth-sharing among Filipino-Muslims.

President Benigno Aquino will soon issue an executive order for the creation of a 15-man transition commission that will draft a law to firm up the creation of a larger Filipino-Muslim autonomous area in the south.

The MILF was once part of a mainstream Filipino-Muslim rebel that waged a separatist war that claimed 150,000 people in the early 70s.

It gave up its secessionist stance when it responded to the pro-autonomy peace initiative of the Philippine government in 1997.

This was after the Philippine government and the mainstream Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forged a pro-autonomy peace settlement in 1996, following talks that began in 1992.

Meanwhile, a senior commander of a militant group blamed for some of the worst terrorist attacks in the Philippines has been included in the most wanted list of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Philippine military said Thursday.

Radullan Sahiron, a leader of the Al Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf rebel group, is the second Filipino suspect to be included on the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists list, the military said. The other Filipino is Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon.

According to the FBI announcement, Sahiron is believed to be the overall head of the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo island, 1,000 kilometres south of Manila. He has been indicted in a US court for the kidnapping of a US missionary on Jolo in November 1993.