President Arroyo To Preside Over Military Conference In Zamboanga

July 26, 2007 at 6:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Basilan island Gov. Jum Akbar speaks as Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, left, and Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza listen during a meeting Thursday July 26, 2007 in Zamboanga City. Security forces are preparing for punitive actions against Moro rebels behind the beheading of ten soldiers on Basilan island on July 10. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 26 Jul) – Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is to preside Friday a closed-door conference with senior military and police commanders in the southern port city of Zamboanga.

Arroyo’s meeting with security officials came ahead of a planned government offensive against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels tagged as behind the beheading of ten marines who were part of 14 soldiers killed in nearby island of Basilan last week.

Security is already tight in Zamboanga City and soldiers were spotted guarding roadblocks and checkpoints near the Western Mindanao Command headquarters where Arroyo will hold the conference.

More than 2,000 soldiers were sent to Basilan island to hunt for the rebels, but the MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, warned that any attacks on its forces could spark an all-out war and trigger a deadly retaliation that may hurt the peace talks.

The MILF defied a one-week military ultimatum for rebels to surrender peacefully, saying, the fighting on July 10 in Al-Barka town was a legitimate encounter after some 100 marines entered a rebel stronghold.

Marine Col. Ramiro Alivio, Basilan military chief, said the soldiers were searching for a kidnapped Italian Catholic priest Giancarlo Bossi when rebels attacked them.

Bossi, seized by rogue MILF rebels led by brothers Akiddin and Wanning Abdusallam in Zamboanga Sibugay’s Payao town, was released in Karomatan town in Lanao de Norte province in Mindanao island.

The 57-year old priest said he was never taken to Basilan island and that a wrong intelligence allegedly provided by politicians in Basilan island had led the soldiers into a death trap.

Philippine media on Thursday reported that Japan and Canada, and the World Bank have expressed serious concern over a possible outbreak of hostilities between security and rebel forces in the volatile region of Mindanao.

They urged the Filipino government and the MILF to exercise restraint to save the six-year old peace talks. Malaysia is brokering the peace negotiations and has sent truce observers on Basilan to help investigate the beheading of the ten soldiers.

Japan said it would temporarily pull out aid workers in Mindanao for security reason if fighting erupts between soldiers and rebels.

Tokyo last year launched the Japan-Bangsamoro Initiatives for Reconstruction and Development, or J-BIRD, as part of its commitment to support peace and development efforts in Mindanao.

These projects include the construction of school buildings funded through Japan’s Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects and post-harvest facilities funded through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).

Jesus Dureza, Presidential adviser for the peace process, said Arroyo is dealing the problem in Basilan in an appropriate manner and told donor countries that the government adheres to the primacy of the peace process in Mindanao.

“Other countries should not show that they are more concerned than we are by these statements. You must trust President Arroyo that she will do the most appropriate thing here because she has shown that she has the political will despite of the great odds in the past.”

“The President, by her own acts, has shown that she adheres to the primacy of the peace process. So let no one doubt that she knows exactly how to deal with these in the most appropriate manner. We welcome those (statements by donor countries), but they don’t have to tell us that because we are more concerned than they are,” Dureza said.

Dureza was in Zamboanga on Thursday and met with Basilan Gov. Jum Akbar and some of the island’s mayors to discuss about the arrest of rebels behind the killing of the soldiers.

Murad Ebrahim, the MILF chieftain, also ordered its forces in Mindanao to observe maximum restraint in the face of standoff in Basilan island.

Ebrahim issued the order after meeting on Wednesday with Datuk Othman bin Abdu’ Razak, chief Malaysian facilitator of the peace talks.

The rebel leader assured Kuala Lumpur that the MILF is fully committed to the primacy of the peace process and to the various mechanisms of the ceasefire agreement, especially in determining the culpability of violators of the truce.

He told the Malaysian peace brokers that the MILF has always maintained defensive posture in the southern Philippines, but warned that rebel forces will fight back if attack by government troops.

Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, has accused the Philippine military of violating the cease-fire after soldiers entered a rebel territory without coordination.

The MILF has repeatedly denied beheading the soldiers and is currently investigating the fighting in Basilan.

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.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting the past three decades for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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