Gov’t, Moro rebels to clear battlefields of land minesInquirer Mindanao
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have launched an initiative to clear former battlefields of land mines—a joint demining venture contained in an agreement signed by both negotiating panels in Kuala Lumpur three years ago.
“This project is all about implementing agreements; it is about rolling up our sleeves and getting our shoes soiled. This is the best occasion for peace negotiators because there are only a few moments that peace negotiators get to see signed agreements in Kuala Lumpur become a reality. This is the kind of work that will also try to bridge the gap caused by several years of war and mistrust,” Alfredo Ferrariz Lubang, Philippine Campaign to Ban Landmines (PCBL) national coordinator, said in a statement.
The demining will be implemented with the PCBL and the Foundation Suisse de Déminage France (Swiss Foundation for Mine Action), or FSD.
On Friday, the government, the MILF and the PCBL, launched the initiative in Mother Kabuntalan town in Maguindanao.
In her speech, chief government negotiator Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer recalled that her first meeting with the leadership of the MILF was on the issue of banning antipersonnel land mines. She was then the PCBL national coordinator.
The engagement led to the commitment of the MILF not to use antipersonnel mines. The MILF is the first armed group in the world that committed to a ban of the use of land mines.
Mohaqher Iqbal, chief MILF negotiator, failed to attend the event but sent Timuay Melanio Ulama, a member of the MILF peace panel board of consultants, to deliver his message.
In his message, Iqbal said the Bangsamoro’s aspiration is in line with the vision of the initiative “From Battlefields to Ricefields” and reiterated the full support of the MILF in the implementation of this agreement.
Ambassador Guy Ledoux of the European Commission, together with seven members of the European Parliament, congratulated all parties for this effort.
Craig Willis, program manager of FSD, gave an overview of the project, which entails a survey and mapping of communities, marking of suspected hazardous areas, and clearing operations in coordination with both the GPH and the MILF.
The Joint Task Force on Mines Detection and Clearance, composed of the members of the coordinating committees on the cessation of hostilities, PCBL and International Monitoring Team, is tasked to oversee the implementation of this agreement.
As per military and MILF estimates, more than 20 unexploded ordnance litter areas were government forces and Moro rebels used to fight in many parts of Mindanao.
At least three incidents where farmers accidentally stepped on an unexploded ordnance in Maguindanao, killing them in the process, have been recorded.
The most recent was in August 2012 in Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, where a farmer’s plow accidentally hit an unexploded mortar killing him and his carabao.—Edwin Fernandez