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Offensives vs MILF to end before Ramadan–DILG chief

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Military: Assaults to go on unless ordered

By Edwin Fernandez, Joel Guinto
Mindanao Bureau, INQUIRER.net
First Posted 13:32:00 08/27/2008

MIDSAYAP, North Cotabato — (UPDATE) Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno said offensives by the military and police against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Central Mindanao are expected to end before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

But Brigadier General Jorge Segovia, acting chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) command center, said the military assaults would continue in the absence of orders to halt the operations.

Segovia said the military could not allow MILF commanders Ameril Ombra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar, alias Commander Bravo, to get away with attacks on civilian communities.

Kato is the MILF commander whose forces occupied several North Cotabato villages early this month while Macapaar led rebels who attacked five towns in Lanao del Norte a week later.

Hostilities 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.

After driving back Kato and Macapaar’s forces, the military has continued pursuing the rebels, hoping to capture the two MILF commanders to face criminal charges filed against them.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with North Cotabato officials, religious leaders and civic organizations, Puno said the world of MILF commander Kato is “getting smaller everyday” and the government hopes to bring him before the bar of justice before the month ends.

“There’s no let up, I hope it would be over before Ramadan starts,” Puno said. “He has to answer for the crimes he committed.”

But asked if the pursuit of the two MILF commanders would be suspended in deference to Ramadan, which starts September 1, Segovia said: “The military follows orders. So far, there are no orders.”

“We have objectives [the capture] the two commanders,” he said. “We have not attained our objective, so the operation will continue.”

At the same time, Segovia said resistance from the MILF in Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao provinces continued to wane on Wednesday, and troops suspect the rebels are running out of ammunition and feeling the heat of the military offensives.

In Piagapo town, Lanao del Norte, where troops are running after Macapaar, heavy fighting on Sunday and Monday left 15 MILF rebels killed and five others wounded, the military said.

In Maguindanao province, where the military is pursuing Kato, two soldiers were wounded in firefights in Mamasapano and Datu Saudi Ampatuan towns over two days of fighting.

There were no reports of fresh casualties on Wednesday, Segovia said.

“Their [rebels’] ammunition is not very sustainable. There’s also the possibility that they cannot withstand the military assault,” Segovia said.

Since early August, a total of 55 people have been killed and 69 others wounded in fighting in Central Mindanao, the military said. The casualty count includes soldiers, civilians, and rebels.

Segovia dismissed as “propaganda” allegations that the military’s mortar attacks and air strikes have led to civilian casualties.

Earlier in the day, Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines that 20 civilians were killed when troops overran rebel positions in Lanao del Norte on Sunday.

But Segovia said “visual reports” from “forward observers” near the targets showed only rebel positions were hit.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2008-08-27T09:36:21+00:00UTC08bUTCWed, 27 Aug 2008 09:36:21 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

Posted in Uncategorized

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