Peace Advocates Call For Reduced Troops Presence In Basilan Island

August 11, 2007 at 8:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 11 Aug) – An international peace mission said Saturday it is supporting calls for a reduced presence of troops in Basilan island, south of Manila.

Mayor Tahira Ismael, of Lantawan town, called for a more greater participation of local government officials in the current police campaign to arrest those involved in the killings of 14 soldiers, ten of whom beheaded in fierce fighting in Al-Barka town on July 10.

Ismael, who is also president of the Provincial Mayor’s League, met Saturday with delegates of the International Women’s Peace and Solidarity Mission in Basilan island.

The group has expressed support to the call for the reduction of militarytroops in Basilan.

“This is Basilan and we know who these people are,” Ismael told thedelegates as she proposed to let the local government re-activate their ownintelligence system in aid of arresting the suspects.

Police filed charges against 130 people, mostly members of the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and the smaller, but the most violent Abu Sayyaf group.

The island’s governor Jum Akbar said that the presence of bigger military troops in Basilan could only complicate the already tense situation.

Filipino lawyer Maryann Arnado, of the Bantay Ceasefire (Ceasefire Watch), also a member of the peace mission, said: “The civilian government must assert the supremacy of their office in resolving the crisis or else somebody will have to do it for them.”

She urged the government and the rebel group to use the mechanisms in thecease-fire agreement in solving the local crisis.

Arnado also appealed to the Philippine media to be sensitive in reporting and avoid writing news reports that are false and inaccurate, saying, it could add to the volatile situation.

The peace mission said it would ask the government to let local police authorities hunt down the suspects in the grisly killings instead of deploying thousands of troops to go after those implicated in the beheading of the soldiers.

The MILF denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf instead. The fighting broke out after some 100 Marines entered a rebel stronghold despite a warning that it would spark hostilities and violate a fragile six-year old truce.

The peace mission expressed concern about the plight of thousands of mostly Muslim villagers who fled their homes because of an impending government offensive. More than 6,000 soldiers are on the island.

President Gloria Arroyo has ordered a punitive action against those behind the beheading after the MILF ignored an ultimatum for it to surrender the rebels.

The MILF said the fighting was a legitimate encounter and would not yield any of its members. (Juan Magtanggol and Antonio Manaytay/Special to the Mindanao Examiner)

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