MILF Defies Gov’t Warnings, Will Not Surrender Rebels Involved In Basilan Clash

July 16, 2007 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Heavily-armed Philippine troops head out Monday from a military base in Zamboanga City. More government soldiers are sent to Basilan island to hunt down Muslim militants who killed 14 marine troopers, ten of them beheaded, in an an attack last week in Al-Barka town, where Bossi is believed being held captive by Abu Sayyaf and renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 16 Jul) – The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, on Monday said it will not surrender any of its fighters for the killing of 14 marine soldiers in Basilan island.

The MILF said it is ready to meet force with force, defying strong government warnings that the military would lunch an attack if it does not yield rebels behind the gruesome slaying of the soldiers – ten of them beheaded and their private parts chopped off in a firefight that lasted 9 hours in the remote town of Al-Barka 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. “We have repeatedly denied decapitating the soldiers. It is against the MILF policy to decapitate the enemy,” Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, told the Mindanao Examiner.

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.

Iqbal said the MILF rebels in Basilan are in heightened alert and ready to defend themselves against military attacks.

He said his group will not surrender any of its fighters. “The fighting between government soldiers and MILF forces in Basilan was a legitimate encounter. We will not surrender any of our fighters. We will not give in to the demands of the Philippine government. We are ready to defend our selves and that is our right,” Iqbal said.

Iqbal said the military already violated the cease-fire when soldiers went inside MILF stronghold in Al-Barka town.

Although the skirmish on the island did not affect the peace talks, any military retaliation could hurt the peace talks, he said. And government statements of a new offensive against 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.

“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.

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 since then had 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.

Ramiro said troops continue searching for Bossi in Basilan. “We have intensified our intelligence gathering and persistent reports say the priest is in Basilan,” he said.

One villager said he saw Bossi, frail and looking haggard, with armed men near the town of Al-Barka days before soldiers arrived in the area.

Ramiro said the clergy is now being held hostage by Abu Sayyaf militants and rogue MILF rebels.

The MILF, which was helping in the past to track down the kidnappers, said the Bossi’s captors were demanding “tens of millions of pesos” in ransom.

Early this month, 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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