Wednesday, May 28, 2008

RP Troops Shell MILF Camps

SULTAN KUDARAT, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / May 28, 2008) – Government forces shelled Wednesday suspected encampments of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in Basilan island in the southern Philippines.

“Military forces shelled our positions in the towns of Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan, firing at least fifty rounds of howitzer canons. We have no reports of casualties, but the MILF is more worried that civilians would be hit by these indiscriminate attacks by soldiers,” Mohagher Iqbal, chief MILF peace negotiator, told the Mindanao Examiner.

The MILF is currently engaged in peace talks with Manila, but negotiations had bogged down after the government rejected demands by rebels to grant them their ancestral lands. And the MILF said troops had been attacking rebel positions in Basilan, several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.

Iqbal said the attacks began at dawn, hitting MILF areas in the villages of Baguindan in Tipo-Tipo town and Silangkum in Ungkaya Pukan town.

“These attacks totally disregarded the cease-fire agreement between the MILF and the Philippine government,” Iqbal said.

Marines Chief General Mohammad Dolorfino denied MILF accusations and said security forces are battling the Abu Sayyaf, a small but notorious group allied with the al-Qaeda terror network and the Indonesian militant Jemaah Islamiya.

“Yes, we fired canons, but our target is the Abu Sayyaf. Troops are pursuing the terrorists,” he said.

Dolorfino said soldiers were pursuing the group of Furuji Indama, tagged by the military as one of those behind the beheading of 14 marines in Basilan in July last year. Police said one of Indama’s brother, Tikboy and a rebel were killed in fighting last week between troops and rebels in Ungkaya Pukan.

Another brother, Redwan Indama, was also implicated in the bombing last year of the House of Representatives in Manila which killed several people, including Basilan lawmaker Wahab Akbar.

Last week’s fighting wounded 14 soldiers with both the military and MILF accused each other of breaking the truce. The MILF said troops attacked rebels in Basilan without any provocation.
The MILF has repeatedly warned security forces to stay away near rebel camps. It said government soldiers had been encroaching in those areas sparking sporadic clashes.
The MILF accused the Arroyo government of delaying the peace talks after negotiations were stalled last year over demands for Muslim ancestral domain.
Rebel leaders said the ancestral domain is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before they can reach a political settlement.

Manila said the provisions of the peace agreement should be within the framework of the Constitution. Government negotiators, led by Rodolfo Garcia, had previously approved the ancestral domain only to renege on the deal later.

Sporadic clashes had been reported in Mindanao since last month after Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks, pulled out its truce observers because of the slow progress of the negotiations. Malaysia has blamed the Arroyo government for the delay in the talks. (Mindanao Examiner)

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