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Troops ‘closing in’ on MILF rebels

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15 Moro rebel camps overrun, so far–officials

By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:18:00 08/25/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) The military has “caught up” with the groups of two Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) commanders who are wanted over attacks on civilian communities in Central Mindanao, after they overran 15 rebel camps and “battle positions” over two days, officials said.

The largest of the 15, Camp Vietnam in Maguindanao, is equipped with watch towers, an obstacle course, and sniper posts.

It is the base of MILF commander Wahid Tondok, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Alexander Yano said.

The others are villages that have been converted into “fortresses” that house MILF fighters, Yano said.

“What is very significant is that our government troops have caught up with all the base commands or groups responsible for the various atrocities in the last few days,” Yano told a news conference in Camp Aguinaldo.

“These are their battle positions and temporary encampments, the most significant of which is Camp Vietnam,” said Brigadier General Jorge Segovia, AFP assistant deputy chief of staff for operations.

The two main targets of the offensives are MILF commanders Ameril Umbra Kato, whose men were driven out of several North Cotabato villages they had occupied early this month, and Abdullah Macapaar alias Bravo, accused of leading attacks on five Lanao del Norte towns that left several people, mostly civilians, dead.

The escalation of hostilities in Central Mindanao, which broke out soon after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the signing of a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and MILF, has also displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

According to data from the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the fighting has affected 272,867 people, of whom 105,984 are in evacuation centers. Another 166,883 have sought shelter with relatives.

Over the weekend, troops clashed with Kato’s men in the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat, and encountered Bravo’s group in Piagapo, Lanao del Norte, Yano said.

“Our intelligence reports point to the fact that the group is there, and the commanders themselves are with the group,” he said.

At 6 a.m. Monday, Army troops encountered MILF fighters in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, killing one rebel, Yano said.

He added that the soldiers recovered an M203 grenade launcher and methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu” from the scene of the clash.

The AFP chief also said resistance from the rebels has “lessened” over the last 24 hours.

Asked if this meant the rebels were losing to government forces, he said: “You can make that conclusion. We have made some substantial gains.”

Since fighting started in North Cotabato earlier this month, the military reported, as of Sunday morning, 17 soldiers and five militiamen killed, and 64 soldiers and two militiamen wounded.

There has been no official count on civilian casualties, but according to earlier military reports, at least 28 civilians were killed in the MILF attacks in Lanao del Norte last August 18.

Segovia said intelligence estimates placed MILF casualties at around 100.

Yano said the MILF’s claims the military suffered heavy casualties are “pure and simple propaganda.”

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

MonUTC2008-08-25T08:14:51+00:00UTC08bUTCMon, 25 Aug 2008 08:14:51 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

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