In Philippines, Abandoned Deal Reignites Rebel War

September 14, 2008

Author: Blaine Harden

Source: The Washington Post

After years of calm, the oldest insurgency in Asia has flared into a brutish war, with burned villages, slain families, artillery bombardments, vigilante death squads and hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The match was lit last month when the Philippine government abruptly backed out of an all-but-done peace deal it had been quietly negotiating for years. That enraged Muslim rebels here on Mindanao, a lush and resource-rich island where Muslims and Christians have been elbowing each other for power and land for more than four centuries.

At 4:30 a.m. Aug. 18, aggrieved rebels attacked this mostly Christian village of 4,000 residents. The rebels looted rice and canned sardines. They doused 22 houses with gasoline and set them on fire, while killing 13 Christian villagers, according to a government tally. The youngest victim was 10; the oldest, 95.

Tipped off about the raid, Muslims in the village fled before the rebels arrived. But if the Muslims come home, they face the vengeance of a Christian vigilante group called the Ilaga, which last operated in the 1970s.

"The Ilaga have risen from the dead," said Roger Vacalares, a council member in this village that still smells of burned houses. "They have automatic weapons. We need that kind of group."

With attacks like this one, a savage cycle of fear, fighting and intimidation has begun again in Mindanao. Relief officials predict the mess will churn on for months. The International Committee of the Red Cross is appealing for increased aid from abroad to feed, house and care for 500,000 civilians it estimates have been affected by fighting.