BASILAN ISLAND, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 30, 2007) – Muslim rebels have blamed Filipino military generals as behind fresh hostilities in the southern Philippines.
Fighting had killed 2 soldiers and wounded more than a dozen others, including a civilian in the villages of Baguindanan and Silangkum in the town of Tipo-Tipo in Basilan island last week.
"They have not coordinated with us and went inside a territory and attacked our members without provocation," said Hamza Sapanton, a senior MILF leader in Basilan island.
Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, commander of marine forces on the island, said troops were pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants in Tipo-Tipo.
Sapanton said government soldiers were attacking them in the guise of pursuing the Abu Sayyaf, a small but the most violent rebel group tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya and blamed for the spate of killings and kidnappings in the southern Philippines.
"The military generals are themselves the problem. They are always lying to the media about everything," he said. The MILF said it has protested the attack on Basilan.
Manila is currently negotiating peace with the MILF, the country's largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in Mindanao. But despite a truce signed in 2001, sporadic clashes still continue in many parts of the region.
In July, MILF forces killed 14 Marines in a firefight after soldiers entered a rebel stronghold in the town of Al-Barka near Tipo-Tipo without proper coordination. Dozens of soldiers were also killed and wounded the next month in fierce clashes between security and rebel forces in the area.
Marine Maj. Gen. Nelson Allaga, commander of the Western Mindanao Command, said the MILF is coddling the Abu Sayyaf, an accusation strongly denied by the rebel group.
"The MILF is not coddling the Abu Sayyaf. We are not coddling terrorists and the MILF has repeatedly and publicly denounced terrorism. We have on many times condemned violence and terrorism," Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner.
Peace talks have been stalled since last year after both sides failed to agree on the issue of the Muslim ancestral domain, which refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement. (Mindanao Examiner)