Muslims March In Sulu To Protest Killings Of Civilians

February 9, 2008 at 8:05 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

Hundreds of Muslims join a rally Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008, on Sulu province in the southern Philippines, calling for justice for seven civilians killed during a military operation. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called for a thorough military investigation into the killings of the seven civilians and an off-duty soldier during an operation against al-Qaida-linked militants in the southern Philippines, the Defense chief Gilbero Teodoro said Saturday. Sulu Gov. Sakur Tan vows to give justice to the victims. The human rights groups Suara Bangsamoro and Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society also denounce the killings. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 09, 2008) – Thousands of people marched in Sulu province Saturday condemning the killings of seven innocent Muslims by government soldiers during an operation against the militant Abu Sayyaf group.

Filipino troops trained by US forces were blamed for the killing of 8 people during a military operation early Monday in the town of Maimbung in Sulu province. Among the dead were two children and two teenagers, including a pregnant woman and an off-duty army soldier.
Many marchers were chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) while others took turn in criticizing the military for the death of the civilians.
“We hate them. We hate the soldiers and we don’t want them here,” one protester, Jul Ismael, said. “Those soldiers are Muslim killers and blood is now on their hands.”
The military insisted the operation targeted the Abu Sayyaf and that two soldiers and three militants were also killed in the fighting. But the Commission on Human Rights which investigated the killings said there were no Abu Sayyaf militants in the village and that the soldiers were probably killed by their companions when they surrounded and attacked houses in the village.
Mayor Hussin Amin, of Jolo town, joined the marchers, composed mostly of civil society groups, non-governmental organizations and Muslim religious sector, and said they were demanding justice for the killings. “We want justice for killings of innocent people. We want those involved in the murder to pay for their crimes. We want them lock up in jail,” he said.
The soldiers who raided the village were members of the Army’s Light Reaction Company, trained by US forces, and Navy’s Special Warfare Group.
Two of the largest Muslim human rights groups, the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society and the Suara Bangsamoro also joined the protests. “We want justice. There should be no cover up of this barbaric and dastardly act,” said Amira Lidasan, national president of the Suara Bangsamoro.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro also arrived in Sulu on Saturday and met with Gov. Sakur Tan and assured that there will be no cover up in the ongoing investigation into the killing of the civilians. He said President Gloria Arroyo ordered a probe into the incident.
“The instruction of President Arroyo is to have a credible investigation,” he said. “I am here today to reassure of a factual investigation into the incident. I am here to convey that we will be cooperating full with the investigations.”
Teodoro met with families of those killed in the raid and heard the testimony of Rawina Wahid, wife of the slain soldier, Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, of the 6th Infantry Division.
She said the raiders dragged her husband out of their thatched house in the village despite his plea. “My husband told the soldiers that he is a member of the Philippine Army, but they never listened and dragged him out of the house, bound his hands behind his back and then shot him. They did not listen to our pleading and they killed my husband,” she said.
The woman said there were no Abu Sayyaf militants in the village, but civilians. “People in our village are just seaweed farmers. We are all civilians and there is no Abu Sayyaf in the village,” she said.
“I saw four American soldiers on the boat and Filipino blinded folded me,” she told reporters. Wahid said she boarded a Philippine Navy boat that took her husband’s remains to a military base in Jolo town.
ABS-CBN television reported that other villagers also noticed the presence of US soldiers on the boat. It quoted reports by the human rights groups Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society and the Suara Bangsamoro that the presence of the US forces in the area raised concerns about its involvement in local military operations, which violates the Philippine Constitution.
Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael, commander of an anti-terror task force in Sulu province, denied the reports and said US soldiers were not involved in the operation. “No US soldiers were involved in the operation and they were not even near the town when the fighting broke out,” Rafael said.
Other who survived that carnage said soldiers took their animals and ransacked their houses, but three villagers said the raiders, many wearing night vision goggles, torched three thatched houses.
Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said he ordered soldiers involved in the operation to cooperate with the ongoing investigations. “I have ordered the troops to be open in the investigation and to tell the truth,” he said.
Tan said the police will also investigate the killings of the civilians. He branded the killings as “barbaric and dastardly.” One of the victims was shot at close range in the forehead, his right eye was gorged and right ear missing. One had a missing finger while another had burns on his body and legs.
Those killed were identified as Marisa Payian, 4; Wedme Lahim, 9; Alnalyn Lahim, 15; Sulayman Hakob, 17; Kirah Lahim, 45; Eldisim Lahim, 43; Narcia Abon, 24; all civilians and Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
Tan has condemned the killings of the innocent civilians and vowed to file criminal charges against the soldiers. He said many of those killed were shot in the head.
“Innocent civilians were killed. The children were shot in the head. We condemned the killings and those soldiers involved in the murder of innocent people must be charged in court and pay for their crimes,” Tan said.
Philippine flags around Sulu were flown at half-mast since Tuesday as Muslims mourn the deaths of innocent civilians.
On Thursday, the SALINLAHI Alliance for Children’s Concerns, an umbrella organization of child rights and welfare groups, strongly condemned the killings and urged for an independent probe of the incident.
“The usual casualties in this campaign are innocent civilians, particularly women and children. The incident again proved that the anti-terrorism campaign as well as the counter-insurgency program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines directed against the handful Abu Sayyaf and other armed groups is absorbed more by the civilian population rather than their real targets,” Alphonse Rivera, the group’s spokesman, said.
“Every incident involving military personnel as perpetrators is dismissed by the military top-brass as casualties of “legitimate encounters” to justify their acts and escape culpability. The next thing we will hear is that the military will insist that these children are also Abu Sayyaf members as if that will justify the killing,” Rivera said.
Reps. Yusop Jikiri, of Sulu province and Mujiv Hataman, of Basilan have separately called for a congressional investigation into the killings in Maimbung town.
Jikiri, a former rebel leader of the Moro National Liberation Front, said the off-duty soldier killed along with seven civilians was shot in front of his wife.
“Wahid was reportedly hogtied first before he was shot in front of her. The wife, in fact, showed the military uniform of her husband, but the soldiers merely ignored the plea of Mrs. Wahid. Later, Mrs. Wahid was taken by the soldiers to the rubber boat allegedly driven by an American soldier,” Jikiri said in a privilege speech in Congress on Wednesday.
Hataman also filed a resolution on Thursday seeking for an urgent investigation of the killings, which he described as “despicable, loathsome and ruthless.”
“There is no valid reason, especially for the soldiers who are supposed to be the protector of the people, to kill innocent civilians, particularly children,” he said. (Mindanao Examiner)


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