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AFP chief: ‘Armed conflict possible if deadline not met’

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But situation ‘not that heated,’ says Yano

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:19:00 08/07/2008

MANILA, Philippines — The chief of the Armed Forces on Thursday said armed conflict is “possible” if Moro rebels ignore a 24-hour deadline to leave nine villages they have allegedly occupied in North Cotabato, even as he said local officials described the situation in the province as “not that heated and tense.”

General Alexander Yano hastily flew to North Cotabato to assess the situation Thursday morning, following a meeting of the National Security Council the evening before.

Asked if hostilities could break out if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ignore the deadline to leave the villages by 10 a.m. Friday, Yano said: “That could be possible. But we are still confident that these groups will understand that they are supposed to leave the area, and if they can leave peacefully, much the better.”

Earlier, the MILF denied making incursions into North Cotabato. While the rebels promised to withdraw any forces that have entered the province, they also said this was unlikely to be necessary.

MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said their forces in North Cotabato have been there before, they are local MILF.”

“It is a delicate situation [that] requires a delicate balance of judgment,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. told a news conference in Camp Crame.

Asked if troops were positioned in the contested villages ahead of the deadline, Yano said: “We can’t discuss operational details like that. Rest assured [that] this will be spearheaded, as I’ve said, by the Philippine National Police because this is an enforcement of our laws.”

Yano was also evasive when asked when the military would step in, saying, “I’d rather not discuss operational details for the protection of our operating troops.”

“I made clear [to the troops] the mandate of our Armed Forces to defend the civilian communities against any atrocities,” Yano said in a phone interview from the 6th Infantry Division headquarters in Awang town, Shariff Kabunsuan province.

At the same time, Yano clarified, “This operation is not merely against the MILF as an organization, but those individuals or groups that violated our laws.”

The events in North Cotabato unfolded after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF that would expand the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) into the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

“Yun nga nakapagtataka, wala pa nga yung BJE, eto na umaarte na itong militant na MILF [I wonder why, even before the BJE is set up, here comes the militant MILF acting up],” North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan said in a phone interview, also from Awang, where he met with Yano.

Sacdalan said three women were killed and two other civilians were wounded, while 82 houses were burned over the last two weeks in the nine remote villages in five towns of his province.

He said contingencies have been put in place in view of the 24-hour deadline.

Yano will be in Mindanao until Friday, when he will visit the 4th Infantry Division headquarters in Cagayan de Oro City, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ernesto Torres Jr. said.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

ThuUTC2008-08-07T09:12:07+00:00UTC08bUTCThu, 07 Aug 2008 09:12:07 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

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