President Arroyo Orders Troops To Hunt Rebels In Troubled South

July 12, 2007 at 8:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Southern Philippines milirary chief, Army Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, center, reads a statement during a press conference Thursday July 12, 2007 in Zamboanga City, as Navy Rear Admiral Emilio Marayag, left, and Marine chief, Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga listen. Abu Sayyaf militants and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels killed 14 government troops searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi in Basilan island on Tuesday. Gen. Cedo orders security forces to intensify the offensive against the militants tied to al-Qaeda terror network. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 12 Jul) – Philippine leader Gloria Arroyo on Thursday ordered troops to hunt down Muslim militants blamed for the killing of 14 soldiers in the southern island of Basilan.

Ten of those who died in the fighting Tuesday were decapitated after troops searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi strayed into a territory of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Al-Barka town.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group negotiating peace with Manila, admitted the attack and said rebels were defending their stronghold.

“The government will account for the perpetrators of this heinous attack in line with the rule of law, through the mechanisms of the peace process. The Armed Forces are duty-bound to hunt down and arrest those who treacherously killed and beheaded the soldiers,” Arroyo said.

Marine Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief, blamed the MILF and the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group for the killing of his soldiers. Nine soldiers were also wounded in the fighting, he said.

“If the perpetrators are Abu Sayyaf, the MILF must stand apart from these terrorists and allow their pursuit and interdiction by government forces. If MILF forces are culpable, then they must be accounted for by the ceasefire committees and be brought to justice,” Arroyo said, adding, “There can be no excuses or alibis for these acts of savagery.”

The gruesome killings drew widespread condemnation from civil groups, but surprisingly no politicians in Basilan came out to publicly denounce the beheading of the soldiers.

Not even militant and progressive political groups which have been denouncing alleged military human rights violations in the southern Philippines.

Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, Philippine Marines chief, said they will pursue the Abu Sayyaf even if the militants are hiding inside so-called MILF territories.

“Definitely, we will pursue the Abu Sayyaf wherever they are in Basilan,” Allaga said.

Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, a regional army chief, said more troops will be sent to Basilan to pursue the attackers and search for Bossi. One battalion of soldiers from the island of Jolo is on its way to Basilan, he said.

Cedo said the government and rebel cease-fire committees have agreed to investigate the MILF attack. He said the MILF should return the weapons they have seized from government soldiers killed and wounded in the fighting.

Military and police said Bossi was kidnapped by MILF leader Akiddin Abdusallam on June 10 after celebrating mass in the coastal town of Payao in Zamboanga Sibugay province.

“There is a high probability the kidnapped priest was brought to Basilan,” Cedo said.
Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator, said rebel forces captured 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.

Authorities said the MILF is holding Bossi for ransom, but intelligence reports have also implicated unnamed politicians who were allegedly supplying the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions.

Alivio earlier said soldiers have wounded a senior Abu Sayyaf leader, Isnilon Hapilon and his son and killed at least 30 MILF gunmen. The MILF said only four rebels were killed and seven others injured in the fighting.

Isnilon is on the terror lists of the Philippines and United States and was implicated in the kidnappings of U.S. citizens and foreigners in the restive South.

Alivio said the search for Bossi is ongoing. “We have persistent reports that Bossi is being held in Al-Barka town and the MILF is preventing us from searching the priest,” he said.

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. (With a report from Juley Reyes)


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