MILF, Not Sayyaf Clashed With Troops In Southern Philippines, Rebel Leader Says

July 10, 2007 at 11:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BASILAN ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 10 Jul) – Philippine Muslim rebels engaged in peace talks with the government clashed Tuesday with security forces in Basilan island, south of Manila.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator, said marine soldiers encroached inside their stronghold on a remote town and attacked rebel forces, sparking daylong clashes that left as many as 20 government troops dead.

Four MILF fighters were also killed and four more wounded, he said.

The Philippine Marines said only 3 soldiers were killed and 13 others injured in the fighting.
Marine Colonel Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief, also denied that 20 soldiers were killed. “It was not true,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Alivio earlier said that troops, searching for the kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi, clashed with members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group aided by MILF rebels in the hinterland village of Ginanta in Al-Barka town.

He said the soldiers were checking reports that the clergy, kidnapped on June 10 in Zamboanga Sibugay province, was sighted in the town. The report turned out to be false.

“Troops were verifying reports that Father Bossi was spotted in the area, but it turned out negative. Our forces were returning to base when they came under fire and fighting broke out,” Alivio said, adding, troops fought about 500 gunmen.

Iqbal said the fighting was between the MILF and government troops.

He said rebel forces destroyed two M35 military trucks and captured another during the fighting. He said MILF fighters have also recovered five M60 machine guns, one sub-machine gun, five M-203 automatic rifles, two M-14 rifles with sniper scopes, one night vision goggle and two radio transceivers.

Acting Filipino Defense chief Norberto Gonzales has told Margherita Boniver, special envoy of the Italian government, that the 57-year old priest from Milan is being held by Abu Sayyaf militants.

But Boniver, who visited the Philippines, last week doubted the report and so was the Rome-based Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere to which Bossi belongs. “There are other theories about the kidnappers, for example, the head of the army mentioned former members of the Islamic Liberation Front,” Boniver said.

Philippine military and police authorities in Zamboanga Sibugay have tagged Akiddin Abdusallam, a rogue MILF leader as mastermind in the kidnapping. The MILF said Abdusallam has been kicked out of the MILF long time ago because of his criminal past and has joined the Abu Sayyaf group.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland, has denied involvement in the kidnapping, but a rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said Bossi’s captors were demanding “tens of millions of pesos” in ransom.

Last week, three undated photographs of Bossi in captivity were sent through cell phone to his friend Spanish priest Angel Calvo in Zamboanga City.

The military said a former Basilan town mayor was the source of the photos. It was unclear how the former official was able to get the photos.

Philippine authorities were investigating the authenticity of the photos, all showing Bossi sitting on a boulder surrounded by young trees. One photograph showed Bossi holding a transistor radio.

PIME said it has no contact with the kidnappers. Bossi is the third Italian priest kidnapped in the past year in the southern Philippines.

Rogue MILF rebels kidnapped Father Luciano Benedetti, 52, in Zamboanga del Norte province in 1998 and held for nearly 10 weeks until he was freed in exchange for a huge government ransom.

In 2001, renegade MILF rebels and members of the bandit group called Pentagon Gang also snatched Father Giuseppe Pierantoni as the 44-year-old from Bologna said mass in the parish church of Dimataling town in Zamboanga del Sur.

The priest was freed after six months in captivity in exchange for an unspecified ransom, but he claimed to have escaped from his kidnappers.

Benedetti now has been following developments in the Bossi kidnapping case closely from the start, from the regional house of PIME in Zamboanga City. (Mindanao Examiner)

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