Deep inside a Moro Islamic Liberation Front jungle encampment in the southern Philippines, veteran fighter Abdul Campong leads a patrol against possible attacks by saboteurs opposed to a peace deal that his group signed with Manila four years ago.
Campong joined the MILF rebels when he was 14 years old, one of many child fighters who left their homes at the time to enlist in the battle for a Muslim homeland in the majority Catholic country’s southern third.
Recalling his early years as a guerrilla, Campong said he was hand-picked to lead a group of young fighters in protecting the camp that housed Hashim Salamat, the ailing MILF leader who died of natural causes in 2003.
“I am thankful I survived despite several encounters I experienced against government soldiers,” Campong recently told BenarNews. “I was mostly a medic tending to injured fighters during the battles.”
The phenomenon of “child soldiers” remains rampant in the south, where many armed groups use them, said Col. Gerry Besana, a spokesman for the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command.
It has become easy for groups to recruit children from remote areas where poverty persists and they have access to loose firearms, he said.
“Except for the MILF, there are still many child soldiers under Abu Sayyaf and BIFF [the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters] in Mindanao. However, with the implementation of Bangsamoro Organic Law, we are confident it will be lessened,” Besana said.
“There are programs that will address the cases of child soldiers among these groups,” he said.
Full story: BenarNews
Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem
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