Basilan Offensive Called Off For Second Time, As Philippines Prepares For ASEAN Meet

July 27, 2007 at 7:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

President Gloria Arroyo arrives in Zamboanga City Friday july 27, 2007 where she presided over a meeting with top police and military commanders. She later visited wounded marine soldiers at a military hospital with Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and Western Mindanao military chief Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo and Marines chief Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga. The military is placed in red alert status and Arroyo ordered troops to hunt down Abu Sayyaf militants in the restive southern region. She also called off planned punitive actions against MILF rebels in Basilan to give way for an independent investigation for three days. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 27 Jul) – The Philippine military on Friday called off a planned attack on Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels who beheaded ten soldiers in Basilan island to give way for a joint investigation.

The MILF, which is currently holding peace talks with Manila, has denied beheading the soldiers, who were among the 14 killed in fierce fighting in Al-Barka town on July 10.

The order came after President Gloria Arroyo met with top military and police commanders in Zamboanga City. Arroyo held a closed door meeting with military generals, headed by Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon and Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

Arroyo gave investigators until Tuesday to finish their report. She also ordered security forces to run after Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to al-Qaeda terror network in Basilan and Jolo island.

The military also implicated the Abu Sayyaf in the killing of the soldiers.

It was the second time the military postponed the offensive since the MILF defied an ultimatum on Sunday for rebels to surrender. The postponement of offensives came days before the start of a three-day ASEAN summit in Manila on July 29. The MILF warned that any attacks on rebel forces in Basilan could spark sympathy attacks.

Esperon said there will be no punitive actions against the MILF rebels until investigations are completed. “Until such time that the results of the investigation come in, there should be no (attacks),” he said.

He reiterated the MILF should surrender those involved in the beheading of the soldiers.

Esperon flew to Basilan island Friday and was briefed about the situation there. “We expect D-day on Tuesday,” he said, referring to the punitive actions against the rebels.

But Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, said they will not surrender any of their members, adding, the fighting was a legitimate encounter after soldiers entered a rebel territory without coordination.

“We are ready for any government offensive. We have the right to defend ourselves from such attacks,” he said.

As many as 5,000 people have fled their homes in the town of Al-Barka and nearby areas for fear the punitive actions would escalate into a bigger war between soldiers and rebels.

Jesus Dureza, presidential peace adviser, said authorities are waiting for the arrest warrants of rebels involved in the beheading. As many as 50 people, mostly MILF members, were implicated in the attack, including two senior rebel leaders and several Abu Sayyaf personalities.

He said local government officials in Basilan were also helping authorities identify those involved in the gruesome killings. But none of them has publicly condemned the beheading of the soldiers.

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 for a separate homeland in Mindanao. (With a report from Juley Reyes)

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