Violence is likely to continue in at least four southern provinces of the Philippines that have big Muslim populations, despite a second round of peace talks between the government and secessionist rebels, according to a prominent Roman Catholic priest. Almost 75,000 people have been displaced since January following clashes between military troops and guerillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the biggest rebel movement in Mindanao island, 1,000 kilometers (about 620 miles) from the Philippines capital, Manila. Although the Philippines is a predominantly Christian country, several of its southern provinces are mainly Muslim. Arab traders brought Islam to Philippines in the thirteenth century.The conflict again grabbed national attention last week when at least 36 people were reported killed and 49 others wounded in a series of bombings carried out by MILF guerrillas. In the wake of the bombings, however, peace talks reopened between the rebels and the government of President Joseph Estrada. The two sides have also declared a cease-fire.However, Eliseo Mercado, a 52-year-old Roman Catholic priest who is helping to monitor the cease-fire, said that he was pessimistic about the talks. "We must prepare for the worst," said Mercado, adding that the Estrada government had "no vision" for the peace process, which he described as "directionless and ambiguous."Among the buildings hit by mortar was a radio station run by an order of priests, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Cotabato City, Maguindanao province.Most of the 36 dead were passengers travelling in two buses.The cease-fire was unlikely to hold, according to Mercado, given a continuing build-up in military and MILF forces.Mercado has been designated chair of ...1
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