Thursday, July 30, 2009

Philippine Army hunt vs. MILF rebels continue

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 30, 2009) – The Philippine military will continue its operations against Muslim rebel leaders tagged as behind the spate of attacks in Mindanao despite a halt in government offensive, officials said.

Officials said the halt in military operations ordered by President Gloria Arroyo does not cover several senior leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front – Abdurahman Macapaar, Ameril Kato and Sulayman Panglian – who were behind deadly attacks on civilian targets last year in the provinces of Lanao, North Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sarangani.

“We are sincere and committed with our convictions to achieve peace and prosperity in the region, however, the law enforcement operation against the Kato’s group will continue in support to the Philippine National Police,” said Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

The Philippine military chief General Victor Ibrado has ordered troops in Mindanao to support the government peace talks with the MILF. Negotiations are expected to resume next week in Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks.

The 6th Infantry Division has previously linked the MILF virtually to all bombings and kidnappings-for-ransom in central Mindanao and even accused the country’s largest rebel group of coddling members of the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiya.

“The 6th Infantry Division will show its active involvement in pursuing national development and that is done in noble and patriotic fashion. We work, talk while standing on the highest moral ground. Managing conflict is our core competence. Our efficacy is best measured by the number of conflicts we prevented rather than the numbers we confronted,” Ponce said in a statement.

The MILF and various human rights groups have repeatedly accused the army of human rights violations in the troubled region. The army had also said that many refugee shelters in Maguindanao province were infiltrated by the MILF, and even accused refugees as being a reserved force of the rebel group.

“Our threat to use force should be superior to the actual use of force to prevent violence. Our rules of engagement are based on the rules of court. Respect for and protection of human rights is key to our actions. We support the peace process with the MILF. The peace process is not an alternative; it is the civil way of resolving conflicts. The 6th Infantry Division work hand in hand with the nongovernmental organizations, and other international organizations and their presence in Mindanao is to help ameliorate sufferings of affected citizens, particularly the internally-displaced persons,” Ponce said.

Ponce did not say why the sudden change in the army’s policy towards the MILF, but his statement came after Ibrado ordered troops to liaise with MILF leaders.

“Liaising with MILF leaders must be persistent in order to convey our intention. Solicit their assistance to prevent hostilities if only to show government’s sincerity to talk peace. Know and discuss peace dividends. Articulate and show that we come in good faith,” Ibrado said.

“Peace process remains the best alternative to end the conflict but we cannot allow citizens to be placed in peril. We cannot allow any rogue group to harass our citizens. We are enforcing the law, these are not combat operations,” he added.

Ibrado also told military commander to avoid remarks which run contrary to the peace process.

“The peace process does not in any form suspend the law on possession of firearms. Commanders must exercise utmost prudence and exhaust their conceptual skills in dealing with illegal armed groups.”

“The eyes of the world are on us because of affected internally displaced persons. Show that the AFP is cognizant of human rights and neither oppressive nor militarized as portrayed by our critics. Work with the NGOs (non-government organizations). They are here to ameliorate sufferings of affected citizens,” Ibrado said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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