After Threatening To Attack MILF Rebels In Basilan Island, Manila Now Appeals To Preserve Peace Talks

July 23, 2007 at 10:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BASILAN ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 23 Jul) – After threatening to attack Moro Islamic Liberation Front gunmen involved in the beheading of ten marine soldiers in the southern island of Basilan, Manila now said there is a need to preserve the peace talks with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

“We have to exhaust all means to preserve our gains in the peace process and we should not allow the Basilan incident to squander the gains that we have all achieved so far,” said Presidential peace adviser, Jesus Dureza.

Dureza also called on the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to refrain from making public statements about the tense situation in Basilan island.

Acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales and AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon last week warned security forces would launch punitive actions if the MILF fails to surrender rebels involved in the beheading and mutilation of the soldiers, who were among 14 killed in fierce fighting on July 10 in Al-Barka town.

Dureza appealed for sobriety, saying, the cease-fire committees of the government and rebel peace panels were investigating the beheading of the soldiers in Basilan.

”We call on all concerned groups to properly respond to the unfolding events with informed and engaged actions towards the preservation of peace,” he said.

The soldiers were searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi in the village of Guinanta, a known MILF stronghold, when the rebels attacked them.

Bossi, kidnapped by rogue MILF rebels on June 10 in Payao town in Zamboanga Sibugay province, was freed in the town of Karomatan in Lanao del Norte province on June 19.

The 57-year old priest said he was never brought to Basilan, but false intelligence reports fed the military led the soldiers into the rebel stronghold.

Even President Gloria Arroyo ordered troops to hunt down the attackers. More than 2,000 soldiers, including dozens of elite Presidential guards, are helping in the hunt for rebels.

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with Manila, has repeatedly denied beheading the slain soldiers and said rebel forces are ready to defend themselves should the government launch a punitive attack.

The military has formed Monday a new anti-terror task force to run after MILF rebels who beheaded the soldiers.

Maj. Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, said the new group called Joint Task Force Meteor will be headed by Marine Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban.

“It will be tasked to conduct operations and effect punitive action against those involved in the beheading and mutilation of marines in Guinanta.”

“The task force will coordinate with the Philippine National Police and the Department of Justice,” Batara said.

The military demanded the MILF to surrender the rebels who decapitated the soldiers and it also linked Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied al-Qaeda in the beheading.

The rebel group defied a one week ultimatum that ended Sunday and is bracing for military attacks. Security forces have surrounded the stronghold of the MILF in Basilan island.

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 implicated unnamed politicians who allegedly supplied the Abu Sayyaf and with mortar rockets, weapons and munitions during the fighting.

Their private armies allegedly fought against the military forces side-by-side with the MILF and that two gunmen had died in the skirmishes. The gunmen were believed behind the mutilation of the slain soldiers.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said any attack on MILF forces in Basilan could spark an all-out war and may hurt the peace talks.

He said the MILF will not surrender any of its members because the clashes, sparked by the soldiers’ intrusion into a rebel stronghold, violated a six-year old cease-fire agreement.

A senior MILF leader Abdurahman Macapaar, commander of the 2nd Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, warned that any attack against the rebel group, could escalate and spark fighting in other areas.

The MILF is the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting the past three decades for separate homeland in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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