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Military launches offensive vs MILF rebels in North Cotabato

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Agence France-Presse
First Posted 11:24:00 08/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 4) On the eve of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the military has launched offensives to flush out Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels who have defied orders to pull out from several villages in North Cotabato province, a military official said Sunday.

The strikes were launched after “all peaceful means” were exhausted to convince the rebels to leave, said Brigadier General Jorge Segovia, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines command center.

Segovia said “proportionate and justifiable force” would be applied against the estimated 500 MILF fighters in the province.

North Cotabato is located beside Maguindanao province, which is among six provinces included in the ARMM.

“With the defiance of the MILF 105th Base Command to pull out from illegally occupied areas in North Cotabato, the group has degenerated into a plain bandit group and considered a lost command,” Segovia told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo.

“As such, today [Sunday], the government forces launched clearing operations in certain barangay in North Cotabato as a due course for law enforcement, without necessarily being constrained by the ceasefire agreement,” he said.

Segovia said that the ceasefire agreement was only binding between the Philippine government and the MILF.

It did not cover groups outside the MILF organization “especially when such group is committing unlawful acts,” Segovia said.

Asked if the military was going to war against the MILF, Segovia said: “Ayaw pa namin nun [We don’t want that now]. We still want to find a peaceful way to resolve this.”

Segovia played down the effect of the clashes on Monday’s election, saying security preparations were in place.

“The election is expected to go on as scheduled, that is the feedback that we got from the Task Force Halalan,” he said.

Sought for comment on the military offensives, the chief peace negotiator for the MILF, Mohager Iqbal, said: “This is a gross violation of the ceasefire. We will protest.”

Iqbal said MILF forces under attack would defend themselves.

As of 12 noon Sunday, AFP Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano said ground troops were authorized to support police in the clearing operations.

“While we still continue to uphold the primacy of the peace process, we have our mandate to protect the civilians and our civilian communities from unlawful acts,” he said.

Eyewitness accounts and radio reports from Midsayap town on the southern island of Mindanao said troops were exchanging mortar and heavy machinegun fire with the rebels.

Civilians also began fleeing their homes in Midsayap and nearby towns amid renewed tensions between the armed forces and the rebels.

At least two soldiers were wounded after they were hit by sniper fire in Kulambong village, Pikit town, said Major Armand Rico, spokesman of the Armed Forces Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom).

The two soldiers identified as Corporal Jennes Freinella and Private First Class Carvelo Tavares were rushed to a hospital for treatment.

“The fighting has started,” North Cotabato Vice Governor Emmanuel Piñol said in an interview on dzBB radio.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said in an interview aired over local radio that the Muslim rebels had been trying to pull out of these areas but that pro-government militiamen had threatened them, forcing the MILF forces to fight back.

“Their [AFP] justification is the MILF is not following the order but they have been repositioning since yesterday [Saturday],” Kabalu told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“Right now, the [joint] ceasefire committee is threshing things out… so the arrangement can push through but until that is threshed out… there will be tensions because the military is continuing to open fire,” Kabalu said.

MILF fighters had occupied areas near communities around this majority-Christian town last week even as a draft peace accord between the government and the rebels was struck down by a Supreme Court order on Monday.

The rebel leadership earlier agreed to pull out of the areas near the communities but many MILF guerrillas have refused to withdraw and have even hoisted their flags over these areas, local officials said.

North Cotabato Governor Jesus Sacdalan said the rebels appeared to be intentionally disregarding the orders of the MILF leadership.

“They continue to stay and harass our civilian populace,” Sacdalan said.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging a 30-year guerrilla campaign for a separate Islamic state in the south of the largely-Christian Philippines but in 2003 the group signed a ceasefire with the government to open the way for peace talks.

In late-July, both sides said they had completed a draft agreement for recognition of the MILF’s “ancestral domain” in the south.

However local officials in Mindanao opposed this agreement and filed a suit with the Supreme Court, resulting in a suspension of the draft accord, raising new tensions with the MILF.

With reports from Agence France-Presse and Nikko Dizon, Philippine Daily Inquirer

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

SunUTC2008-08-10T08:34:07+00:00UTC08bUTCSun, 10 Aug 2008 08:34:07 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. this heartbreaking to my beloved homeland Midsayap.

    junix

    FriUTC2011-10-07T08:30:08+00:00UTC10bUTCFri, 07 Oct 2011 08:30:08 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am10


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