MANILA: The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have launched a project to rid more than 450,000 hectares of once-fertile rice and corn fields in Mindanao “war zones” of landmines and other unexploded ordnances and return these lands to the farmers.
Officials said the project is funded by European Union (EU) as part of its support for the Mindanao peace process highlighted by the signing on Oct.15 of the historic framework agreement between the government and the MILF.
On Thursday, EU parliamentarians attended the project launching in one of former war zones, a “barangay” (village) in Maguindanao, one of the component provinces in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) along with Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan and Sulu as well as Marawi City.
The parliamentarians were led by Werner Lengen, the head of the delegation of the European Parliament for Relations with Countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) who are on a week-long visit to the Philippines.
In particular, Lengen said the project aims to remove landmines and other explosives in rice and corn fields located in the war zones and which forced farmers to abandon them.
“EU will continue to support all efforts to bring peace to Mindanao,” Lengen vowed during the launching of the project called “Delivering Peace Dividends through the Reduction of Explosive Remnants of War.”
As conceived, the project is to identify and clear out mines from suspected hazardous areas in 21 towns in the provinces of Maguindanao, Cotabato, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.
These towns cover more than 450,000 hectares with a total population of 800,000 who were forced to leave their homes and farms due to heavy fighting between government forces and the MILF.
Officials said the project would employ teams who would pinpoint the exact locations of the landmines through interviews with villagers in the affected communities.
Reports were that the landmines and improvised explosive devices killed close to 500 people since l999 with 34 fatalities in 2011 alone including 14 children.