A senior United Nations official has welcomed the recent peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), establishing a framework for settling the decade-long conflict on the southern island of Mindanao.
“This is a major step not only to bring peace and reconciliation to the region, but also to alleviate the plight of children affected by the conflict,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said in a news release issued on Tuesday evening.
Earlier this month, the Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino announced that his Government had reached a preliminary agreement of autonomy with the MILF, which has been fighting for decades for an independent Islamic state on Mindanao. The new autonomous region will be named Bangsamoro.
At the time of the announcement, a spokesperson for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the accord as a “landmark achievement,” and pledged full UN assistance in helping the parties implement the accord.
In August 2009, the MILF and the United Nations signed an action plan to halt and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict on Mindanao.
The MILF, with the world body’s support, has taken action to build awareness of its international obligations within their ranks and communities, as well as to provide alternatives to children to prevent their association with the armed group, according to Ms. Zerrougui’s office. In Mindanao, children associated with the MILF often perform tasks in support of combatants which expose them to clear risk.
“The MILF and the United Nations, with the much needed support of the international community, must seize the opportunity of this peace dialogue to fully implement the action plan to ensure that children have no role in armed groups,” Ms. Zerrougui added.
Ms. Zerrougui also expressed concern over reports of recruitment and use of children by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters – a break-away faction of the MILF – and called for the release of children from their ranks as an immediate priority.