FSD's support to the peace process in Mindanao
For many years, the Philippines have often been plagued by armed conflicts between rebel groups and governmental forces, resulting in the use, albeit limited, of landmines.
The Government of the Philippines ratified the Ottawa Treaty in December 1997. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed the Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines in March 2000 and renewed its commitment in April 2002.
In many areas, however, local populations living close to former combat zones are suffering from the impact and dangers of explosive remnants of war after nearly 30 years of armed conflict.
The FSD contacted the Office of the Presidential Advisor on The Peace Process and the Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities in early 2005 to offer its services in support of the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
During these negotiations, the FSD was encouraged to develop a “joint” UXO survey and clearance proposal in Muslim Mindanao using staff from both sides of the conflict. Both the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front welcomed this move.
In early 2006, the FSD provided general advice and assistance regarding humanitarian mine action to the Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities. The FSD also reiterated its offer to create a joint clearance programme and to provide mine and UXO safety training to organisations within the framework of the Bantay Ceasefire monitoring network. This led to the compilation of a “concept of operations” paper that was presented to the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The FSD’s offer is currently being reviewed by the Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities for approval by the Peace Panel in 2007.
While awaiting progress on the operational subjects, the FSD has opened a representative office in Manila.
Mindanao MRE project
On the 4th of November, the FSD and its local partner the Philippines Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL), began training the first group of Mine and UXO Risk Education (MRE) providers in Cotabato City, Mindanao.
The area has been the scene of fighting between Muslim separatists and the Philippines government since 1968. In August 2008, renewed fighting in the region led to over 430,000 people being displaced. The fighting also led to an increase in unexploded ordnance, which poses a risk to refugees and returnees. In July of this year, both the Philippines Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) formally suspended military operations, and the Peace Process was restarted.
The end of military operations may encourage refugees to return to their villages, which although clear of UXO when they left, may have become contaminated since. This increases the need for Mine and UXO Risk Education for these communities. The two MRE courses planned for November and December will begin to meet the need for trained MRE providers. Further courses, including the training of local instructors, are planned for 2010.
The initial courses will be managed by Ali Marc Wazne, FSD’s former MRE project manager in his home country: Lebanon.