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Peace at any cost is a prelude to war!

STRATFOR.COM Global Intelligence Update
16 March 2000

Warning: Civil War Could Resume Throughout Philippines


At a recent leadership conference in the southern Philippines, the
Islamic Command Council (ICC) announced that it will resume its
guerrilla war against the government after nearly four years of
tenuous peace. By itself, this single organization cannot re-spark
the country's dormant civil war. But there is widespread guerrilla
dissatisfaction with the implementation of the 1996 peace accord.
The country is also stressed by economic and political problems.
The group's announcement appears to presage the return of full-
scale civil war to the Philippines.


On March 12, the Islamic Command Council (ICC) announced at a press
conference in the southern province of Lano del Sur that it would
resume its guerrilla war against the Philippine government. The
council is a faction of the country's former rebel front, the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF). At the press conference, a
spokesman for the group claimed that it comprised nearly 90 percent
of the original 20,000-25,000 MNLF forces. About 100 heavily armed
members appeared before the media.

On an immediate level, the ICC is calling for an independent
Islamic state in Mindanao. The group notes that that the Philippine
government co-opted MNLF leader Nur Misuari, who signed a 1996
peace accord with the government putting an end to the civil war in
exchange for autonomy - not independence - for the Moro people. At
the conclusion of its leadership conference, an ICC spokesman
warned that "aside from self-determination and the establishment of
an Islamic state, the only way out here is through mutual
destruction," according to the Manila Times.

By itself, the ICC presents a limited military threat. But the
announcement may trigger the resumption of a long-simmering
conflict in the southern Philippines; dissatisfaction has risen
among other former MNLF guerrillas because of the slow pace in
which the peace accord has been implemented. Talks with other
separatists have been stalemated. On many fronts, the 1996 peace
accords appear to be failing. The government in Manila is striking
an increasingly harder line, as well.

Despite claiming thousands of members, the ICC has in fact been a
small militant faction since 1995. Government estimates place
membership in the low hundreds. The ICC split from the larger front
in 1995 during the final stages of peace talks. While the MNLF, led
by Misuari, pressed for peace, the ICC, led by Melham Alam - a
former chief of staff under Misuari - rejected the government's
offer of autonomy. In April 1995, the ICC and the Muslim terrorist
group Abu Sayyaf attacked the predominantly Christian town of Ipil
in Zamboanga Del Sur Province. More than 100 were left either dead
or wounded. Misuari expelled Alam from the front after the attack.
In 1996, Alam claimed that the ICC had 300 fighters trained in
Afghanistan and Syria, plus 3,000 Muslim rebels.

This small group, however, has a keen sense of timing. The group is
stirring as another round of peace negotiations between the
government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) nears a
June 30 deadline. Announced by President Joseph Estrada, the
deadline calls for a working peace deal - or the launch of a full-
scale military assault against the MILF. Some in the Philippine
government and military  are reportedly dissatisfied with Estrada's
tough line, likening it to the activities of former President
Ferdinand Marcos before declaring martial law in 1972.

There is considerable concern about the balance of forces, in case
it comes to renewed civil war. Government forces are stretched
comparatively thin. Deployments in Mindanao include 35,000 soldiers
and 35,000 paramilitary militia - the largest single deployment in
the Philippines. There are calls for a further 15,000 members to be
added to militia forces, known as the Citizen's Armed Forces
Geographical Unit (CAFGU). The Philippine military includes only
74,000 army troops and 9,000 marines.

In comparison, the MILF has about 15,000 fighters and government
figures indicate that they have greater access to weapons with
11,350 firearms - up nearly fourfold since 1997. The MILF may also
be able to count on other insurgent groups and former guerrillas
who have since been brought into the armed forces - but whose
loyalties are questionable. The list of other active insurgencies
includes Abu Sayyaf, with 1,500 members and 500 weapons, the ICC
and other former MNLF fighters, and the Communist New People's Army
(NPA), with 10,600 members. Though they are not allied, these
groups have been known to operate together.

The single most important cause of unrest among the thousands of
former Philippine insurgents is the slow place of implementing the
four-year old peace accord. The process of integrating former
guerrillas into the military and national police, as the accord
demands, has been slow due to mistrust on both sides. In October
1999, 500 ex-MNLF soldiers left their military training facility,
complaining that they were mistreated and inadequately paid.

Straining the tenuous peace in the south, MNLF leaders also hold
that the government has not fulfilled its part of the 1996
agreement, by failing to issue weapons to MNLF fighters who are now
in government units. The government's reticence to arm the
integrated former MNLF troops was justified in December 1999 when
the first 1,000 ex-MNLF fighters promptly disappeared after being
issued weapons. The military also has suspended the distribution of
weapons to the remaining troops integrated into the armed forces.

For the government, the question is clear. Where do the loyalties
of these men lie? With the government or the Moro cause? In
February, two former MNLF fighters-turned-government troops were
found among six Muslim guerrillas killed in a clash between marines
and the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo Island.  Brig. Gen. Orlando
Buenaventura, commander of the marines in the area, reportedly said
that the military suspects "some MNLF integrees [sic] have been
spying on us and telling the enemy about our anti-insurgency
plans." He added, "We cannot trust them anymore." Guerrillas who
have not entered the military present a clear threat. In January,
100 armed, former MNLF guerrillas occupied a port, demanding that
the government hire them as security guards.

Misuari himself has several times warned that if the peace process
isn't accelerated, the MNLF may re-launch hostilities. Misuari
himself has little desire to break off the peace process but he may
have little choice if he wishes to remain in power. Muslim leaders
have called for his replacement, claiming he has not fulfilled his
role as governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindano. There
has been little economic or social progress in the area since the
peace accords.

The chief active guerrilla group, the MILF, appears headed toward
broader open conflict with the government. The MILF is building its
membership. Estrada's June 30 deadline for peace is spurring this
growth. The MILF is also capitalizing on the numerous rumors of an
impending military coup against Estrada, recently announcing that
it had captured three government agents who were part of a coup
plot. Reportedly, the agents admitted to a plan that would have
pressured Estrada into launching a full offensive against the MILF;
Estrada would have then been relieved of his presidency.

For the MILF such a scenario would serve several purposes: placing
blame for attacks on the government, fueling rumors of a coup and
engendering distrust between the military and government. These
rumors also appear to be undermining confidence between the
government and the armed forces. The tactic appears to be working.
Armed Forces Chief Gen. Angelo Reyes has insisted that the armed
forces remain loyal and warned, "We will not baby any coup
plotters." Nevertheless, the government called in the navy's Vice
Adm. Luisito Fernandez to account for the loyalty of the navy,
reported the Manila Times. In addition, the military is
increasingly active on the domestic front. Roles likely include
stepped up surveillance.

Each of the separatist groups will likely take advantage of this
situation. The possibility of all-out civil war is growing, as are
prospects for stepped up operations by the MILF, MNLF and Abu
Sayyaf in the south, the Communist army in the central region and
the north. The ICC's chief area of operation is the urban setting,
quite possibly Manila itself.

(c) 2000, Stratfor, Inc. http://www.stratfor.com/

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