Muslim villager dies as shots fired over mosque access

Muslim residents of southern Philippines's volatile coastal area protesting logging firm's efforts to fence in land they say has been stolen from them, while cutting off access to a local Mosque

Muslim residents of southern Philippines's volatile coastal area protesting logging firm's efforts to fence in land they say has been stolen from them, while cutting off access to a local Mosque

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - A Muslim protester was killed in the Southern Philippines on Saturday when local residents and workers for a logging firm fought over access to a local mosque.

Zamboanga City Police Chief Sr. Supt. Angelito Casimiro said the man died when an unidentified resident threw a grenade into the compound of the company, a firefight then breaking out as workers and security guards retaliated.

"The grenade came from the outside, from the residents. It was thrown into the Dacon [the logging firm's] site," Casimiro said.

Armed troops soon arrived along with emergency workers who helped calm the situation.

The incident took place on the west coast of Zamboanga - a Christian majority city in the Philippines predominantly Muslim Mindanao region. Muslim residents of the volatile coastal area are protesting the logging firm's efforts to fence in the lumberyard, saying that the firm has no right to the land and any barrier would cut off access to a local Mosque.

Protesters claim that in 1936, then Philippines President Manuel L. Quezon gave the area to them, declaring it the following year as a "Muslim Reservation Area," or Recodo, Sulu, Mindanao, State of the Princess.

The incident underlines the strength of feeing that many indigenous communities feel in the country's south, angry that big companies have robbed them of ancestral lands for access to the country’s resources.

The southern Philippines - or Mindanao as it is known to the Muslim locals - has long been touted as the "Land of Promise" because of its rich natural resources. It is home to more than half of the country's estimated mineral wealth, and has long been plundered of its reserves of copper, gold, aluminum and iron by the world’s largest industry players.

Mindanao is also the site of the largest pineapple plantations in the country, which are spread out in the ancestral lands of the indigenous people of Bukidnon and South Cotabato. It also boasts one million hectares of grasslands that are gradually being turned into palm oil states.

As a result, Muslim communities have frequently come head-to-head with big companies, the communities claiming that bureaucracy and extra-judicial threats have robbed them of their land rights, and frequently left them in danger of overplanting or soil erosion. Hydropower dams have left land flooded by reservoirs, with Muslim communities left with no place to go, while sacred forests and arable land is frequently left unusable due to mineral mining.

The Zamboanga police chief said Saturday that he believes the Dacon management cannot meet the protester's demands.

A spokesman for the Muslim locals, Recodo Barangay Chairman Wahab Ibba said that protesters had entered dialogue with a Dacon representative and the City Council Committee Chairman Elong Natividad, who had requested that construction of the fence be suspended.

“But the Dacon management did not grant the request,” Ibba said.

In a previous incident Thursday, angry villagers clashed with workers and security guards, the violence only stopping when policeman and soldiers arrived, while in February an M79 grenade again exploded inside the company's grounds, but there were no reports of casualties.

The company’s lumberyard - worth millions of pesos (hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars) - was also recently destroyed in a fire believed to be caused by arson.

Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency