Muslims in the southern part of the Philippines are agitating for independence. One can’t help but wonder if recent events in Kosovo serve as an inspiration for Philippine Muslims.
According to Arab News (spelling and syntax errors in the original):
Muslims in Sulu Rally for Independence
Hundreds of Muslims turned up here yesterday to join a rally that demanded independence of Sulu province, once the seat of power of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.
With clenched fists and chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great), the marchers clad in their traditional garb demanded independence of Sulu, an archipelago in the remote part of the Philippines.
“We want independence. We want our ancestral land back from the infidels,” Datu Ibrahim said.
Others assailed the military for alleged violations of human rights of Muslims in Sulu after seven people and an off-duty soldier were killed by security forces in a raid on an Abu Sayyaf hideout in Maibung town in February.
The marchers went around the town of Jolo, many waving red flags emblazoned with kris and other traditional weapons, urging citizens to join them.
Policemen guarding the town kept a close watch, but did not stop the marchers, some of them carrying long knives tucked on their waist, a long tradition still practiced in many parts of the island.
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The Sultanate of Sulu was a Muslim state that ruled over much of the islands off the Sulu Sea before World War II.
The Sultanate of Sulu, founded in 1457 and believed to exist as a sovereign nation for at least 442 years, obtained Sabah from a Brunei ruler as a gift for helping put down a rebellion.
The British leased Sabah and transferred control over the territory to Malaysia after the end of World War II.
Even after Borneo became part of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur still pays an annual rent of 5,000 ringgit to the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu Ismail Kiram. At least a dozen people were claiming to be the real sultan of Sulu and North Borneo.
The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, which is negotiating peace with Manila, is also fighting for independence in Mindanao, a region rich in natural resources, but is deep in poverty and torn by strife and terrorism.
However, many politicians whose family owns vast tracks of lands and business interests in Mindanao are opposing the MILF demand for a separate state, saying, it would displace Christians in areas covered by the Muslim ancestral domain.
Peace talks were stalled last year after government and rebel negotiators failed to agree on the scope of the ancestral domain, which is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group and the government can reach a political settlement.
The ancestral domain covers the whole of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. Even some parts of Palawan island in central Philippines and the Sulu archipelago is covered.
President Arroyo has opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001, but since then no substantial agreements have been signed between the two sides, expect for the cease-fire accord. The MILF earlier warned that hostilities may erupt in Mindanao if the peace talks fail.
Hat tip: TB.