KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 2 / April-May-June 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

BASILAN: The Next Afghanistan?

Report of the International Peace Mission to Basilan, Philippines, 23-27 March 2002

From March 23 to 27, 2002 an International Peace Mission visited Basilan, Zamboanga City and Cotabato City in Southern Philippines. The following article is a compilation of edited extracts from "Basilan: the next Afghanistan?", the report of the peace mission.

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EVEN BEFORE BASILAN was hailed as the "second front" of the US' war against terrorists, an international group of scholars, parliamentarians, and civil society leaders were already planning to send an independent team of peace, development, and human rights workers to Afghanistan. Concern about the massive human and social costs of the indiscriminate attacks had been mounting among international social movements.

After five months of bombing, it was clear that the anarchy and criminality in Afghanistan had only worsened with the coming of the Americans. Much of Al Qaeda's top command is still intact, allied forces have been killed, and civilians have become the victims of less than precise bombing. While the condition of women may have improved in certain areas to a certain extent, warlords have reemerged to divide the country into different zones, opium trade had flourished again, ethnic cleansing and the use of rape as a weapon had also been reported. All these may have been the foreseen or unforeseen, intended or unintended, results of the US engagement in Afghanistan.

Fearing that the same fate awaits "the next target after Afghanistan" and hoping to avert such eventuality, civil society groups redrew their plans so that instead of going to a landlocked country first, they proceeded to the island of Basilan where the largest number of US troops are being deployed after Afghanistan. Preparations are currently underway for the eventual visit of another peace mission to Afghanistan.

The Objectives

The mission had four broad objectives. First was to look into officially denied reports of civilian casualties, arbitrary arrests, and displacements of affected communities. Second was to evaluate the conduct of the joint US and Philippine military exercises as well as its possible ramifications on the Moro separatist struggle. Third was to share with local civil society organizations information on security trends as well as insights on similar conflicts in other parts of the world. Fourth was to gather and disseminate views that may guide possible international initiatives towards peaceful resolution of Basilan's problems.

The Organizers

The Participants

Fifteen men and women from ten different countries participated as members of the international peace mission. Among them were parliamentarians or legislative staffers, scholars, journalists, and civil society leaders:

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