Tension Still High In Basilan Island, As More Troops Arrive To Hunt Militants

July 15, 2007 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

 

President Gloria Arroyo orders troops in Basilan island to hunt down Muslim militants blamed for the killing of 14 marine soldiers, ten of them beheaded, in an attack in Al-Barka town, where a kidnapped Italian Catholic clergy Giancarlo Bossi is being held by rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service/Mark Navales)

 

BASILAN ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 15 Jul) – Tension is running high in Basilan island, south of the Philippines, where security forces are hunting down Muslim militants blamed for the killing of 14 soldiers, ten of them beheaded.

The Philippine military tagged the Abu Sayyaf group, an affiliate of the al-Qaeda in the Philippines, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the gruesome murder of the soldiers in Al- Barka town on July 10.

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with Manila, admitted clashing with soldiers, but denied decapitating them. It said the fighting broke out after some 100 marine troops went inside an MILF territory without coordination.

Marines Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military commander, said the soldiers were searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic clergy Giancarlo Bossi when some 500 Abu Sayyaf and MILF gunmen attacked them, sparking daylong clashes that also killed at least 30 of the ambushers.

The MILF denied there were Abu Sayyaf militants. Hundreds of troops have arrived in Basilan to pursue those behind the killings and the MILF said an attack on their forces on the island is a violation of a six-year old truce.

It said the military already violated the cease-fire when soldiers went inside MILF stronghold in Al-Barka town. “The military already violated the truce,” said Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator.

Although the skirmish on the island did not affect the peace talks, any military retaliation could hurt the peace talks. And government statements of a possible new offensive again the MILF have already alarmed the rebel group. Peace talks were stalled since last year after MILF, which is fighting for a separate Muslim homeland, rejected a government proposal for a limited autonomy.

Iqbal told the Mindanao Examiner that the MILF has put its forces in high alert following the bloody clashes that also killed five of its fighters.President Gloria Arroyo ordered troops to hunt those responsible in the savage attack.

“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.

Iqbal said rebels defended their stronghold thinking the soldiers would mount an attack.

Police and military authorities tagged Akiddin Abdusallam, an MILF leader, as behind the kidnapping of the 57-year old Bossi, from Milan, a charge strongly denied by Iqbal, saying, Abdusallam was kicked out long time ago because of his criminal past and has then joined the Abu Sayyaf.

“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 cease-fire committees and be brought to justice,” Arroyo said, adding, “There can be no excuses or alibis for these acts of savagery.”

Sattar Alih, head of the MILF cease-fire monitoring team in Basilan island, said rebel forces withdrew from the battle scene, leaving the bodies of soldiers behind, after military and rebels agreed to a cease-fire.

It was unknown who were behind the decapitation, but intelligence sources in Basilan have also implicated unnamed politicians who allegedly supplied the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions during the fighting.

Their private armies also fought against the military forces side-by-side with the MILF and that two gunmen had died in the skirmishes. The military is now investigating the reports.

Acting Defense chief Norberto Gonzales said the government will not allow the attackers go unpunished. “We will not allow those responsible (in the beheading of the soldiers) unpunished,” he said in a radio interview in Manila.

Gonzales blamed the MILF for the attack. “We have a peace process and then they will attack the soldiers. And we saw (on television reports and news videos) what really happened and we will not allow those responsible in the killings to go unpunished,” he said.

“If they want to pull out (from the peace talks) then go ahead,” Gonzales said after being told in the interview that the MILF may threaten to pull out from the peace negotiations if Manila insists on blaming the rebel for violating a six-year old cease-fire accord.

The military said the search for Bossi is going on in Basilan. 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 Juan Magtanggol)

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