Moro Islamic Liberation Front soldiers guard a village near a rebel base in the southern Philippines Sunday 28 Jan 2007. The MILF, Philippines' largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence is currently negotiating peace with Manila. The MILF is helping Filipino authorities track down Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya terrorists in the troubled region of Mindanao where rebels actively operate. (Mindanao Examiner Photos exclusive for The Australian)
MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Jan) – Philippine military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon has ordered troops to halt attacks against Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces in the troubled southern region of Mindanao.
The fighting, which erupted Friday, left at least 2 people dead and two others injured and thousands of civilians also fled their homes in at least 5 villages in the farming town of Midsayap in North Cotabato province after rebels and soldiers clashed sporadically.
"I was told by the army that General Esperon ordered troops to halt the attacks against the MILF forces," Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief peace negotiator, told the Mindanao Examiner.
Government planes, backed by combat helicopters and ground forces, assaulted Saturday rebel strongholds after accusing some MILF fighters of attacking Christian farmers and army-led militias in the province.
Iqbal accused the military of violating a fragile, six-year old truce, a charge security officials denied.
He said the fighting broke out after armed militias and Christian landowners tried to drive away local Muslim villagers, some of them members of the MILF, who owned lands in the area.
Iqbal said the soldiers sided with the militias and attacked rebel forces, sparking sporadic, but fierce clashes.Iqbal said the MILF rebels in the area were in heightened alert.
“They were ordered to be in alert and defend themselves from these military attacks,” he said.Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the rebel attack sparked firefight that killed one person and wounded one more.
“It was the rebels who started this fight. They attacked people who were just harvesting coconuts. The MILF violated the truce and we will file a protest with the government peace panel,” Ando said.
He said thousands of civilians have fled their homes in two villages for fear that they would be caught in the cross-fire or held hostage by rebels. “Many people have fled their homes and we are trying to protect the villages from the trebles,” he said.
Iqbal said at least 5 villages have been bombed by military forces. The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, is currently negotiating peace with Manila, but despite a cease-fire accord signed in 2001, sporadic clashes still continue in many areas in the troubled region.(Mindanao Examiner)