Philippine Military Accused MILF Of Using Child Soldiers In Mindanao
Posted By Mindanao Examiner | Friday, September 12, 2008 02:19:46 PM

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / September 12, 2008) – The Philippine military accused the country’s largest Muslim rebel group of using child soldiers in Mindanao to fight the government.

Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops seized a video showing young recruits training from a captured Moro Islamic Liberation Front base in Maguindanao province.

“The video shows young Muslim men being trained by MILF rebels and this is a clear violation of the UN treaty which bans children from being drafted into combat,” Ando told the Mindanao Examiner newspaper.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits governments and rebel groups from deploying children under the age of 18 in any form of armed conflict.

Ando said the video was seized from the rebel base used by Ameril Kato, one of three MILF leaders wanted by authorities for the series of deadly attacks last month in Mindanao.

Aside from Kato, security forces are also pursuing Abdurahman Macapaar and Sulayman Panglian. Manila also offered P25 million bounties for the capture of the three rogue commanders blamed for the attacks in North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Sarangani and Maguindanao that killed dozens of innocent civilians.

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with the Arroyo government, said the bounties would only complicate the tense situation in Mindanao. Manila repeatedly demanded the MILF to peacefully surrender Kato and Macapaar. The MILF said it will not yield the two rebel leaders, saying, it would investigate their involvements in the attacks, which occurred after the aborted signing August 5 of the ancestral domain deal.

President Gloria Arroyo has already abolished the government peace panel and also scrapped the ancestral domain deal initially signed by peace negotiators after the Supreme Court stopped the formal signing of the accord that would have granted Muslims their own homeland in more than 700 villages across Mindanao.

Ando said the MILF continues to recruit young Muslims to fight the government, despite the ban on the use of child soldiers around the world. “The MILF continues to recruit and train young men to fight the government and international human rights groups should investigate these disturbing reports,” he said.

The MILF admitted having young fighters in its ranks, but said they are sons and relatives of rebels and not child soldiers.

“We have young members and these are the sons and even relatives of MILF mujahideen. We teach these young revolutionaries how to defend themselves from aggressors. They are not child warriors, but young mujahideen,” Eid Kabalu, a senior rebel leader, said by phone from his base in Mindanao.

Nearly 60 nations have pledged not to use children in their armies. A document, called the Paris Commitments, was signed in France by 58 countries, including Sudan, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in February 2007.

Two other states named on a UN list - Burma and the Philippines - did not take part in the Paris meeting.

The UN estimates over a quarter million children are involved in over two dozens conflicts around the world.

Early this week, at least 7 people, including five children, were killed in military air strikes in Datu Piang town in Maguindanao. And security officials gave conflicting reports and said those killed were rebels or supporters of MILF escaping from government offensives in the province.

Army spokesmen also said those slain were caught in the cross-fire between rebels and military forces.

But an independent group called the KABIBA Alliance for Children’s Concerns said the military was just trying to cover up for its human rights abuses in Mindanao.

“The Armed Forces of the Philippines has run-out of alibis, but to justify their atrocities to children civilians by declaring the victims as “collateral damage” and worst, branding these innocent Moro children as MILF child-warriors,” said Honey May Idul-Suazo, the group’s secretary said.

She said the escalation of armed conflict between the rebels and soldiers continues in Mindanao and has already displaced more than 360,000 mostly Muslim civilians and seriously affected the children.

“Children are not spared from being killed or hit by bullets, shrapnel, or bombs and alongside become easy targets of military offensives by tagging them as child warriors of the MILF,” Suazo said.

She said at least 21 people, seven of them children, had died from indiscriminate bombings and air strikes by the military in the province.

“The military’s nonsensical and unjust war against the Bangsamoro people is deplorable as they intended to jeopardize the protection and survival rights of the children,” Suazo said.

Human rights organizations have also condemned the killings, but the government has repeatedly blamed the MILF for using civilians as shield from pursuing soldiers.

Manila said it would only resume peace talks with the MILF if it surrenders the three wanted rebel leaders. The government also demanded the rebels to surrender their weapons, which the MILF flatly rejected. (Mindanao Examiner)

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