Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rebels, Troops Hurl Accusations At Each Other As Fighting Continues In Southern Philippines

ILIGAN CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 30, 2008) – Philippine Muslim rebels fighting government forces accused the military Saturday of preventing food aid from reaching refugees in the troubled region of Mindanao.

Radio network dzRH on Saturday also reported that troops were preventing aid workers from bringing food packs to refugees in Lanao del Norte province.

Eid Kabalu, a senior leader of the rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said troops prevent international and non-government organizations from bringing food aid in Lanao del Norte, where security forces are battling rogue MILF members blamed for recent attacks on government troops.

“Soldiers are preventing food aid from reaching the refugees, who are hungry and sick from continued government offensive in the province,” Kabalu told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said fierce fighting in Lanao del Norte and Maguindanao provinces had killed at least 30 soldiers since Friday. “Fighting is going on in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte and at least 30 soldiers are dead in MILF attacks,” Kabalu said.

He said fighting was raging in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Guindulungan towns in Maguindanao and also in Lanao del Norte’s Poona Piagapo town, where troops had captured a major MILF base.

But Maj. Eugene Batara, a regional army spokesman, denied all Kabalu’s claim and said at least two rebels were killed in Friday fighting in Poona Piagapo town. He said eight soldiers were also wounded in the clashes.

Batara also denied the military blocked food aid in the province.” There is no truth to that report and as a matter of fact, we have been securing aid workers to protect them from rebel attacks,” he said in a separate interview.

The Arroyo government on Friday said it has abandoned the homeland deal with the MILF, although it would still continue negotiating peace with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

Government and rebel peace negotiators last month have initially signed the memorandum of agreement on the ancestral domain which would grant a separate home for Muslims in more than 700 villages in the southern Philippines.

But the Supreme Court stopped the signing of the deal after some lawmakers and politicians opposed to the accord filed separate petitions, saying, there were no public consultations.

President Gloria Arroyo, who opened peace talks with the MILF in 2001, has shifted in the basic premise of the government's peace effort after hundreds of rebels under Ameril Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar led a series of attacks in the provinces in Mindanao that killed dozens of civilians.

Arroyo said the change in the government's approach to end the Mindanao conflict was prompted by the atrocities committed by the MILF attacks.

Hermogenes Esperon, the presidential peace adviser, said the government will longer sign the ancestral domain deal. "We will not sign the memorandum of agreement on the ancestral domain, but will continue with further negotiations with the MILF to arrive at final peace deal," he said.

It was unclear how this would affect the peace talks, but the MILF has repeatedly said that it would no longer negotiate the homeland deal after peace negotiators initialed the agreement last month in Malaysia, which is brokering the negotiations.

Kabalu said the MILF leadership will have to decide whether to continue the peace talks with Manila or not.

The MILF previously warned that a bigger war is likely to erupt should the peace talks totally fail. It blamed hawkish factions in the Arroyo government and politicians opposed to the Muslim homeland deal for the skirmishes in Mindanao which is threatening the seven-year old peace talks.

Batara said the MILF should surrender peacefully Kato and Macapaar, but the MILF insisted it will not yield the two notorious commanders, both linked by government intelligence to the international terror groups such as the Jemaah Islamiya and the Al-Qaeda.

Manila also put up ten million pesos bounty for the capture of Kato and Macapaar whose forces had brutally killed innocent civilians and pillaged villages in the provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.

Rebel forces launched the attacks after the aborted signing of the controversial ancestral domain agreement. The influential Organization of the Islamic Conference condemned the attacks. (Mindanao Examiner)

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