Commentary: Jemaah Islamiyah, an obstacle to peace in RP and beyond
by Menardo Wenceslao
ICC General Santos City (7 November) (7 November) -- Peace in the southern Philippines is proving an elusive goal at best. Although the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) professes to desire peace and a homeland for Philippine Muslims, the group continues to support and shelter al-Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorists who have perpetrated attacks on civilians throughout the region, either directly or through surrogate rebel groups
As might be expected, the MILF has consistently denied any relationship with JI, but such denials are refuted by considerable evidence to the contrary. Foreign intelligence networks have confirmed the MILF's sheltering of JI, including some of its top militants.
Further, confessions of captured Indonesian rebels in the Philippines attest to JI's presence with the MILF. And in a prophetic statement issued last June, Malaysian Admiral Muhammad Som, head of the International Peace Monitoring Team, said continued harboring of JI militants by the MILF could derail the peace process.
Admiral Som had visited most of the conflict areas in Mindanao and had spoken from experience. The only admission so far from the MILF has been that JI terrorists "may have been given sanctuary by breakaway elements of the MILF," hardly a credible excuse.
On 10 September, the media reported that two bomb attacks in Sultan Kudarat Province were said to be the work of JI. Colonel Marlou L. Salazar, commander of the 601st Brigade, identified Abdul Basit Usman as the perpetrator of both incidents. "Usman is the local operative of JI. The design of the bombs was the same as used in previous bombings by his group," Colonel Salazar said. He added that Usman was among those bomb experts trained locally by JI, although Usman claimed to be a member of the MILF.
The stalled peace talks between the Philippine government (GRP) and the MILF have been the pretext for additional violence instigated by two rogue MILF senior commanders in Mindanao. The forces of Umbra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar, known as Commander Bravo, are currently the targets of a large-scale military offensive.
Not surprising, a report by the International Crisis Group in early 2008 said Kato's ties to JI and other terrorist groups were "well documented." Analysts suspect that Kato and Bravo could seek support from JI militants, who wish to establish a stronger presence in Mindanao.
Perhaps even more ominous, the current violence could spread to other countries of the region. Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, on 5 September told the media that MILF rebel forces might resume their armed struggle on a larger scale. He warned that the conflict could "spill over to neighboring countries like Indonesia, Malaysia or Brunei." A government security analyst said those three countries already have expressed fears that MILF renegades could slip into their territories with the help of JI's vast network.
Likewise, Arabinda Acharya, a Philippines expert with the Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, predicted 2 September that worsening chaos in Mindanao could embolden the most violent and radical elements to export their jihad beyond that island. "I will not be surprised if the MILF renews their attacks," Acharya said. "That will be what JI wants for the Philippines."
As JI continues its efforts to incite radical MILF elements to perpetrate even more violence, an enormous humanitarian crisis is emerging for those caught in the crossfire. The International Red Cross (IRC) reported 8 September that clashes between government troops and the MILF have reached their worst point in five years. The IRC has issued an emergency funding appeal to help more than 500,000 civilians displaced from their homes and their livelihoods.
No doubt solutions to the current problems in Mindanao, of which JI and elements of the MILF form a significant part, will not come easily. The news that violence in the south has been significantly reduced by military efforts to hunt down hard-line MILF units responsible for recent raids is encouraging. "We can restart the dialogue when the area is secure, when our people are safe and responsible elements of the MILF regain control," President Macapagal-Arroyo announced 9 September. The next move would seem to belong to the MILF. (ICC GenSan) [top]