SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 4, 008) – Police have tightened security in the southern Philippine province of Sulu following reports that Moro National Liberation Front forces were planning to launch a series of attacks against government targets.
Some 300 MNLF members have gathered in Talipao town and were said to be planning to attack military posts, police intelligence reports said.
“There were reports alright, but all these are subject to verification. One report suggested the MNLF is to attack military posts in Bayug village in Talipao, but so far there have been no attacks,” Superintendent Jul Asirim Kasim, the Sulu provincial police chief, told the Mindanao Examiner.
Kasim said they received reports from the villagers in Talipao town. He said MNLF leader Khabir Malik was supposed to lead the attack. “Some 300 MNLF members gathered in Talipao last week, but we do not know what was discussed during their meeting,” he said.
Inspector Usman Pingay, police chief of Jolo town and Superintendent Muhibuddin Ismail, chief of an elite provincial police force, said they have no reports about an impending attack. “It is peaceful in Jolo,” Pingay said.
Ismail said his group has not received reports about the planned attacks by gunmen loyal to jailed MNLF chieftain Nur Musuari. “We have no reports about it,” he said in a separate interview.
Other reports said the MNLF in Sulu has joined forces with the Abu Sayyaf group tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya and would attack police and military camps.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.
Under the peace agreement, Manila would provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.
Many former guerrillas were disgruntled with the peace deal, saying, the Arroyo government failed to comply with some of its provisions and uplift their standards of living. They accused Manila of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the south.
And in November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.
Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, but had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest in Manila.
Earlier this year, the Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), urged Manila to free Misuari.
The MILF wanted Misuari released from detention after six of his followers were freed in January this year. The MILF, a breakaway faction of the MNLF, is currently negotiating peace with the Arroyo government, but talks were stalled last year over the issue of the Muslim ancestral domain. (With a report from Nickee Butlangan)