Complicated world of Moro armed groups — Lim Mun Fah
MARCH 8 — After a massive offensive launched by our security forces against the Sulu gunmen in Sabah, an armed group from the southern Philippines calling itself the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) claimed that a battle-hardened guerilla team has departed for Sabah from Mindanao to help the Sulu gunmen fight the security forces.
Another armed group from the southern Philippines, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), however, denied its involvement in the deadly clashes between the Sulu gunmen and Malaysian security forces in Sabah, and said that the incident should be solved by the Malaysian government and the Philippine government.
The general public might be confused and mistakenly think that the MNLF and the MILF are one organisation as their names are very similar.
In fact, there are many Moro armed groups in southern Philippines. In addition to the MNLF and the MILF, there are also other groups, such as the New People’s Army (NPA), Abu Sayyaf and the MNLF splinter group led by Nur Misuari.
Based on the information collected, these Moro armed groups have nearly 30,000 members, equalling a quarter of the Philippine military force. They have caused a serious threat to the security and stability of the Philippines, particularly the notorious Abu Sayyaf which has been involved in many terrorist attacks like abductions and assassinations in Southeast Asia, including the kidnapping of 21 hostages in Sabah in May 2000. The goal of Abu Sayyaf is to establish an independent nation in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, as well as to jointly build a pan-Islamic kingdom together with Muslims in other Southeast Asian nations.
The resistance activities of Muslim armed groups in the southern Philippines started ever since the day when Western colonial powers invaded the region. In the 1970s, there was an outbreak of large-scale armed conflict between the Philippine government and the MNLF, established in 1968, that declared the independence of the southern Philippines. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the bloody confrontation over the past 40 years.
The MNLF and the Philippine government achieved a final peace agreement in 1996, but the agreement was not recognised by other Moro armed groups. Therefore, over the past more than 10 years, the southern Philippines remains an area of unrest and a shelter for Southeast Asian terrorist organisations since there are many islands and jungles in that area. The Jemaah Islamiyah members, suspected to have involved in the Bali bombings, had hidden in the camp of Abu Sayyaf and helped the organisation to train terrorists.
As for the MILF that denied its involvement in the Sabah intrusion, it is a group splintered from the MNLF in 1978 and achieved a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 2012 under the Malaysian government’s mediation.
It must be pointed out that although there are many factions under the Moro armed groups and there are many contradictions among them, we cannot rule out the possibility that they might mutually help in fighting against enemies for a common interest. This has also further complicated the Sabah territorial dispute. I am afraid that peace might still far away! — mysinchew.com
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.