Cree Construction may get more than it bargained for as it embarks on a major road-construction project halfway around the world in the jungles of the Philippines.

Experts on the Philippines say the road will snake through the middle of one of the world’s deadliest guerrilla wars, which pits three major rebel movements against a government with a dismal human-rights record.

The highway will start in territory claimed by Muslim separatists, who kidnapped 74 people in June 1994, executing 15. It will then proceed across hundreds of kilometres of mountains and jungles where armed indigenous rebels have for decades resisted efforts by the army, settlers and loggers to encroach on their traditional lands.

At a cost of $200 million U.S., the highway will be the first link between the east and west coasts of the island of Mindanao, population 14 million (about 4 million Muslims and Natives).

A 10-person Cree Construction team is now in the Philippines doing a $500,000 feasibility study on the road.

Steven Bearksin, the company’s president, said he expects a big part of the final contract for the road, which is being financed by the Philippines government and the World Bank.

But Patricio Abinales, a Filipino graduate student who is researching Mindanao at Cornell University, warned that the project may be a nightmare for the Cree company.

When Korean developers tried to open up the interior of Mindanao several years ago, they faced armed opposition. “There was an engineer kidnapped every month,” Abinales said.

“I’d rather they didn’t build the road at all,” he added. “They’re cutting forests left and right. People are trying to organize against it, but what can you do if they have guns?”

And then there’s corruption. Abinales said his brother, an engineer in Mindanao, had to pay bribes to everyone from local politicians, military commanders and warlords to various rebel bands to be allowed to build a bridge on the island. Somehow, he forgot to pay off a small faction of Muslim separatists. One of his trucks was subsequently blown up.

Guy Bourcier, a Cree Construction manager supervising the project, said he is unconcerned about the human-rights problems. “In the area where we are, there are no problems of that nature.”

Bourcier said local Natives are “superfavourable” to the road. He said the road will help isolated Natives get around the island more easily and promote economic development.

But Oona Paredes, a graduate student at Arizona State University researching the Philippines, said Cree Construction should expect “trouble” because the road will pass through one of the most unstable regions of the country.

“Mindanao is an island with a history of violence,” said Paredes, who was born on Mindanao. “The worst-case scenario is that the lumads (Natives) start attacking the people working on the road construction, and because they are attacking these people the military will call them rebels. Then, the military can do whatever they want to these people. That’s the pattern we’ve seen for the last 20 years.”