Early one morning, Nonviolent Peaceforce’s (NP’s) field team stationed in North Cotabato, Mindanao, Philippines received information about a rising armed tension in a nearby village. Elaysa Latiban, a local and NP’s field team leader, hit the road with her team to conduct a security assessment of the area.
The day before, community members had tipped off NP that they had spotted 100 armed men moving towards the village.
“The escalating tension is deeply connected to a previous dispute between two local commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that was previously settled, but lately has seen a resurgence,” recounted Elaysa.
While there is an ongoing process to integrate separatist MILF fighters into civilian life and peace, internal conflicts within the MILF forces still occur, threatening peace in the region.
One party in this conflict was led by Akas and the other by Kla, who had reached an agreement 4 years ago. However, allegedly, Akas’ group breached the deal. Elaysa shared that “Akas’ group would intimidate Kla’s group by forcing its constituents to share their crops during harvest time...the attacks were part of Akas’ plan to reclaim his land in the area.”
Civilians Trapped in the Crossfire
The NP team arrived in the village around 9:30 in the morning and met with the village captain, the highest elected government official in the community. They gathered updates on the security of civilians in the area and learned the firefights between the Akas and Kla groups were taking place in the border of the village.
Elaysa recalled, “Upon reaching the border, we heard sporadic firing of guns and were surprised to see approximately 30 vehicles with civilians onboard, including child passengers, caught in the middle of the road and unable to pass through.” Well-known in the area, NP immediately jumped into action and accompanied the parade of vehicles and motor riders to safety. No more gunfire was heard during the trip back to safety.
You Protect Before, During, and After Conflict
Since NP had established relationships with key actors on the ground before the conflict, the team was able to talk to all sides and significantly influence another conflict resolution initiative.
Additionally, one of the internal conflict mediators shared that he “was able to apply the protective presence training I received from NP in order to protect civilians in this case.”
Not only did NP protect civilians from the crossfire, but the team continued to work after the fight to support conflict resolution by providing protective presence in the series of negotiations following the firefight. And, NP joined the ceasefire committee to ensure there is no further retaliation between Akas and Kla.
Thanks to supporters like you, when asked what was the positive outcome of the day, Elaysa answered, “NP’s nonpartisanship and independence had prevailed in the situation. It led to the successful protection of civilians against the conflicting parties.”
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Nonviolent Peaceforce's ceasefire monitoring work in Mindanao is possible thanks to the support of the European Union and generous supporters like you.