Christians asked to cancel festivals in Central Mindanao

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 08 2009 11:13 PM | Updated as of Jan 09 2009 07:13 AM

Authorities have asked local officials in the southern Philippines to cancel or downsize Christian festivals that might otherwise provoke Muslim militants, the region's top policeman said Thursday.

Police conveyed the request to officials in the Mindanao region, where half a million people were displaced by Muslim separatists' raids in the latter half of 2008, said Chief Superintendent Fidel Cimatu, Region 12 police chief.

In the latest attack, an unknown suspect tossed a grenade into a huge crowd of New Year revelers in the southern city of General Santos, wounding 22 people.

"Most cases of grenade-throwing and bombings have occurred in areas with large gatherings, like carnivals, town festivals and other activities that attract crowds," Cimatu told reporters.

Officials were asked to postpone or curtail such activities, Cimatu said, adding: "The main goal here is to ensure the safety of the public in the light of these bombings."

Should cancellations be impossible, local police forces were under orders to impose "strict security measures for those activities," including "frisking people and strengthening police visibility," he said.

Cimatu said the police action would not be restricted to Christian communities, which now make up the majority on Mindanao, ancestral homeland of a large Muslim minority that in the 1970s began a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state.

In the latest action by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the south, some 150 rebels Wednesday raided the farming village of Sangay, setting fire to 30 houses and forcing about 500 families to flee to the nearby town of Kalamansig, according to the military.

"The targets of grenade-throwings and bombings are not only the Christians," Cimatu said. "There are also casualties among our Muslim brothers."