Southern Philippines' uneasy history

By Jonathan Head, BBC News Online, Tuesday 20 February 2001, 08:01 GMT

The decision by the Philippine Government to order a ceasefire in the southern Philippines brings to an end the hard-line approach to the rebellion there taken by the military for the past year.

But there have been previous attempts to reach a peace agreement in the south which have all so far failed to end the fighting.

Philippine hostages

The armed conflict between Muslim separatists and the army in the southern Philippines has continued since the days of martial law under former President Marcos nearly 30 years ago.

Muslims on the island of Mindanao have long resented being ruled by Manila.

The main rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, used to receive training and, allegedly, weapons from Libya.


But in 1996 the MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in return for the creation of an autonomous Muslim region to be run by members of the rebel group.

However, two splinter groups remained outside that agreement:

It was the Abu Sayyaf which abducted a group of foreign tourists from nearby Malaysia last year.

Many Muslims have continued to support the MILF because they are disappointed by the lack of economic development in the autonomous region.

The army increased its attacks on the MILF last year, in part because of its concern over the increased strength of the rebel group but also because then-President Joseph Estrada believed that a tougher approach would increase his popularity.

But despite some successes, the army has been unable to crush the rebels and has in the process made itself very unpopular with the Muslim community in the south.