Clan wars in Mindanao

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — DEADLY clan wars, which feed on unlicensed firearms and weak law enforcement, could disrupt peace talks aimed at settling a Muslim insurgency in the Philippines and should be dealt with more effectively, peace advocates said Wednesday.

Research funded by a US-based group showed that the number of violent conflicts between clans or families has risen in recent years in 11 southern provinces, disrupting peace talks with Muslim rebels, displacing large numbers of villagers, and crippling communities.

The research documented 1,266 conflicts-known as “ridos”-that caused widespread disruptions between the 1930s and 2005. About half of the clashes erupted after 2000, according to the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation, a nonprofit group that oversaw the study.

More than 5,500 people have been killed and thousands displaced by the clashes, the group says.

Authorities and private groups have expressed alarm over the clan wars because of their potential to disrupt and displace communities and spark fresh fighting between government troops and Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas, who have observed a year-long truce in the south.

The MILF is the largest group waging a rebellion for self-rule in Mindanao.

“Ridos threaten the current peace process if a clan conflict escalates to involve members of the armed groups,” Asia Foundation leader Steven Rood said at the launch of a book on clan wars in Mindanao.

Von Al Haq, an MILF guerrilla who attended the Manila launch, says government troops have attacked rebel forces in the past in the guise of responding to local clan wars. Some Muslim guerrillas have been drawn into smaller clan conflicts, which escalated and drew in government troops, he says.

A joint government-rebel truce committee and the presence of Malaysian-led ceasefire monitors have kept clan conflicts from escalating and affecting peace negotiations, Al Haq says.

The Asia Foundation supervised research also shows that villagers feel more threatened by clan wars than by sporadic fighting in the insurgency, a statement by the group says.

Most conflicts are sparked by land feuds and political rivalries but some are set off by killings, personal insults and even petty theft. Such conflicts have flourished in southern regions with large numbers of unlicensed weapons, weak law enforcement and a perceived lack of justice and security, the group says.

Rood says government efforts to ease clan wars have been spotty, and authorities should work more with private organizations to resolve conflicts, preferably at the community level.

Guiamel Alim, a pro-peace activist, says a serious government campaign to rid southern communities of illegal guns and strengthen law enforcement would help ease clan wars.