JOLO ISLAND (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Apr) – The Moro National Liberation Front rebels on Monday denied military allegations that it was sheltering members of the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group and Jemaah Islamiya in the southern Filipino island of Jolo.
“We have no links whatsoever with the Jemaah Islamiya. We don’t even know who were behind this group. How can they link us with the Jemaah Islamiya or Abu Sayyaf?” said MNLF leader Ustadz Khabir Malik.
Troops were battling Malik’s forces accused of attacking a marine base and the town hall of Panamao town on April 13, killing three soldiers and a civilian, said Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon.
The military said Malik’s group is sheltering Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya terrorists on the island, about 950 km south of Manila.
“We have ordered troops to pursue the terrorists and the fugitive Malik. Our operation is now called Oplan Ultimatum 2,” Esperon said.
But Malik accused the military of attacking MNLF forces and killed civilians in the guise of pursuing the Abu Sayyaf and the Jemaah Islamiya.
The military said it was targeting Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya hiding in the camp controlled by the MNLF. Last week, soldiers shelled a base of Khaid Ajibun, one of the most influential rebel leader allied with jailed MNLF chieftain Nur Misuari.
Misuari is facing rebellion charges after his forces attacked a major army headquarters in Jolo island in 2000. The MNLF signed a peace agreement with Manila in September 1996, but Misuari accused the Arroyo government of failing to honor the accord.
Malik said the military violated the peace agreement. “Since they have not respected the MNLF and the September 1996 peace agreement and with all those unprovoked attacks against us, it is now better to have no cease-fire at all.”
“Those who want to attack should attack now. They have been attacking the MNLF. So it is now up to them. We will take care of ourselves.”
Esperon said it was Malik’s group started the hostilities in Jolo.
“Malik attacked military and civilian targets without provocation. Malik attacked the marine base with mortars and also attacked the Panamao town hall, which is 31 kilometers away,” he said.
“Malik remains the subject of our hot pursuit. It is very clear that he committed homicide. We now consider him as a fugitive,” Esperon said.
Malik said: “Do not believe what the military say about the MNLF, we have not done anything wrong. It is the civilians who are suffering from these attacks of the military. There is no peace at all here. The blame should fall on the military and the Arroyo government, not us.”
The military said it killed and wounded dozens of rebels since the fighting broke out in Jolo, a claim strongly denied by the MNLF.
Some 8,000 soldiers are involved in the operation against about a thousand MNLF rebels and Abu Sayyaf members and a dozen Jemaah Islamiya militants, including Dulmatin and Umar Patek, who were both implicated in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people. (Mindanao Examiner)