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Philippine Military Grabs Upper Hand in Mindanao

  • Luke Hunt

The Philippine military has gained an upper hand over militants fighting for an Islamic homeland in the country's south.

While not a definitive victory over the insurgents and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, MILF, the Philippine military's latest offensive has destroyed more than six bases and killed more than 100 rebels over recent weeks.

The military says this has ruined the MILF's capacity to make strategic strikes and limits its ability to provide a safe haven for regional terrorists. It also puts the military on a footing to achieve its objective of reducing the conflict to inconsequential levels by 2010.

Al Jacinto is a Mindanao publisher and political analyst. He says the offensive came in retaliation to MILF strikes that left scores of civilians dead and forced 200,000 flee their homes after peace efforts faltered last year.

He also says land rights remain at the heart of the conflict and the issue is not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

"Many of these lands are now occupied by the political leaders of Mindanao, the powerful clans, Christian clans, politicians and businessmen. So that's a big problem and the MILF and many Muslims accuse these people of land grabbing so I think there will be a lot problems about this Muslim homeland," he said.

However, Philippine political analysts say the offensive will give some prestige to President Gloria Arroyo as she completes her last year of office.

It will also win the Philippine military some kudos in Washington if it delivers a few more telling blows against regional terrorist outfit Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf militants. Members of both groups have found sanctuary with the MILF and a haven on Mindanao.

The Philippine population is predominately Christian, but a Muslim minority lives mostly in the southern islands. For decades, various groups have fought for a separate nation for Muslims in the south. The government has reached peace deals with some rebels, but the MILF and Abu Sayyaf have fought on.