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No all-out war, says DND chief

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:58:00 08/23/2008

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. bucked anew calls for an all-out war with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), saying it could lead to “irreversible” damage.

But Teodoro and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano said military offensives in Central Mindanao will not cease unless the MILF surrenders its commanders who have been blamed for attacks in the provinces of Lanao Del Norte and North Cotabato.

Teodoro said the government would remain on “higher moral ground” and would not stoop to the level of MILF Commander Adbullah Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, who reportedly challenged security forces to an all-out war.

The military is running after Macapaar, who was blamed for attacks on civilian communities in Lanao Del Norte province last August 19, and MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who was tagged in attacks on 15 villages in North Cotabato earlier this month.

“If we do what Bravo is doing what makes us different from Bravo?” Teodoro told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo. “What higher moral ground [can we] claim if we do the same thing that he doing?”

Teodoro said an all-out war would mean “unleashing the full force” of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

If this is done, the defense chief warned: “The repercussions on the relations between people in the area may be irreversible. It may slide into a conflict we could never recover from because people will start hating each other not because they are part of the MILF or part of the government but because of what they believe [in].”

Earlier this week, former President Joseph Estrada has called for an all-out war with the MILF, like he did during his term in 2000.

But the government has insisted that the ongoing offensives targeted only Macapaar and Kato as it reiterated its commitment to peace negotiations.

Three days of ground and air bombardments against the forces of MILF commander Kato in Maguindanao province have left four soldiers killed and 20 others wounded and a “substantial” number of casualties on the side of the MILF, Yano said.

“They [MILF] can do several things to stop the offensives, number one, they can surrender their commanders, number two, they can promise to rein in their people to make sure that they cannot do criminal activities or atrocities,” Teodoro said.

“If they continue to harbor criminals, the operations will continue. We will place them under the rule of law. If they refuse to surrender these commanders, this means that they are tolerating them,” he said.

But regardless of whether or not the MILF surrenders its commanders, Teodoro said: “We are pursuing them.”

Kato’s group fled to Maguindanao after military offensives drove them out of 15 villages that they occupied in North Cotabato earlier this month. Troops are also running after the group of Macapaar, who allegedly murdered civilians and burned houses in Lanao Del Norte last Monday.

“Definitely, with our troops on the ground, we expect more skirmishes,” Yano said of the fighting in the towns of Mamasapano, Shariff Aguak, and Datu Piang in Maguindanao.

On the Lanao offensives, while there have been no recent encounters, Yano said: “Considering that they [MILF] are still there, as intelligence shows, we anticipate some armed confrontations in the next few days.”

But the two officials stressed that the offensives targeted only MILF members linked to the North Cotabato and Lanao Del Norte attacks, and not the entire MILF organization.

Yano said the military was checking whether or not other MILF fighters have reinforced the groups of Bravo and Kato, although he admitted that in the battlefield, it is “difficult” to separate the reinforcements from the targets.

Troops are running after three base commands of the MILF, each with around 1,000 members, Yano said.

“We do not want to give a deadline but as much as possible we do not want to prolong the fight because it is not good for the general public. The shorter we can make these operations last, the better,” he said.

Since the fighting started in North Cotabato early this month, Teodoro said the casualty count, tom include both soldiers and civilians, was at 44 killed and 53 wounded. Of the total fatalities, 33 were in Lanao Cel Norte, six in North Cotabato, two each in Basilan and Saranggani, and one in Shariff Kabunsuan.

The fighting has also displaced 201,975 people, he said.

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Written by joelguinto

SatUTC2008-08-23T13:15:20+00:00UTC08bUTCSat, 23 Aug 2008 13:15:20 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm08

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