Saturday, May 16, 2009

Troops try to stop solidarity mission in Mindanao, says human rights group

Photo released by the Exodus for Justice and Peace show army soldiers and policemen speak to representatives of the International Solidarity Mission and Exodus of Justice and Peace on Saturday, May 16, 2009 in Compostela Valley province in Mindanao where they held a dialogue on human rights and medical mission for poor villagers. The ISM and EJP say the soldiers tried, but failed to stop them from their solidarity mission, an accusation denied by the military. (Mindanao Examiner)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / May 16, 2009) – Government troops battling communist rebels in the southern Philippines have tried, but failed to stop a human rights and medical mission in Compostela Valley province.

Soldiers allegedly told the International Solidarity Mission and the Exodus for Justice and Peace to leave the province after they failed to coordinate their activity with the military.

The two groups also held a medical mission Friday and Saturday in the town of Monkayo where they held a dialogue on human rights. The International Solidarity Mission (ISM) was composed of foreign and national delegates led by Rep. Rafael Mariano.

“At around 5 p.m. Friday, eight members of the 28th Infantry Battalion arrived and asked the group to leave and insisting that we failed to coordinate with the military. Rep. Mariano and the EJP talked with the soldiers and an hour later they left. The same group of soldiers again arrived 12 noon today,” the organizers said in a statement.

The ISM has been conducting a dialogue in Mindanao as part of its mission dubbed as “A Journey of Solidarity in Defense of the People Resisting Oppression in Southern Mindanao.”

The group has been visiting areas of armed conflict to probe the effects of the government's counter-insurgency campaign among the locals and the rampant violations by the military of their human rights, especially in Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur, South Cotabato and North Cotabato provinces.

But an army commander, Col. Robert Ancan, denied the allegations and said soldiers and policemen were only guarding the area from lawless elements. “The soldiers were members of the 25th Infantry Battalion deployed to protect the civilians and the solidarity mission from possible attacks or harassment by rebels,” Ancan told the Mindanao Examiner.

A village chief, Franco Tito, said he was unaware of the report and the ISM and EJP have not told him anything about the soldiers. He said the soldiers were deployed to secure the area.

“The dialogue and the medical mission were successful. Soldiers and those from the ISM and EJP even posed for posterity pictures with us. I did not notice anything unusual and the outcome of the solidarity mission was successful.”

“We thanked the military for securing the area and we thanked also the ISM and EJP for the medical mission – five hundred people were given free medical attention and medicines,” Tito said in a separate interview.

Capt. Rosa Maria Crsitina Manuel, a regional army spokeswoman, said they did not interfere with the activity of the ISM and EJP. “We are not interfering with the activities of the ISM and EJP,” she said.

Compostela Valley is a known stronghold of the New People’s Army which has been fighting four decades for the establishment of a Maoist state in the country. (Mindanao Examiner)

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