Photos released by the independent Philippine Coalition to Protect Children Involved in Armed Conflict show civilians wounded and a house damaged by shrapnel from an alleged military shelling in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region where security forces are battling Moro rebels. (Text by the Mindanao Examiner)
MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 18, 2009) – The Philippine military on Thursday blamed Moro rebels for the shelling of civilian targets in Mindanao Island where fighting between the two groups are continuing, officials said.
Colonel Jonathan Ponce, a spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces were behind the shelling on two villages in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region.
The MILF earlier accused the military of indiscriminate shelling and tagged army soldiers as behind the attacks that wounded three civilians near a refugee shelter in the village of Libutan. Another village called Linantangan was also hit by artillery that left several people injured, it said.
The MILF said the wounded civilians - Sapia Zainal, 10; Zaid Abas, 20; and Bayan Tunadzi, 23, - were rushed to hospital in Cotabato City. “Victims had sustained severe wounds in different part of their bodies,” it said.
Ponce insisted the MILF shelled civilian targets. “The accusation of the MILF against the military of indiscriminate shelling of an evacuation center in the village of Libutan is a blatant lie. Rogue MILF rebels deliberately fired a mortar round to put the blame on us. These dirty tactics they employed is design to destroy the image and credibility of the military,” he said.
“We strictly follow the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) rules of engagement and adhere to human rights and the law of armed conflict. This is how desperate they are and even refugee shelters have become a target. They are doing this because of the severe setbacks we have inflicted on the MILF in terms of manpower, armaments and resources, including their mass base.”
Mohagher Iqbal, the chief MILF peace negotiator, denied Ponce’s allegations and said the army was behind the attacks. “What the military say is theoretical. They always violate the Geneva Conventions,” Iqbal said.
The Geneva Conventions are humanitarian treaties which are the basis for humanitarian law across the world. It is a set of international rules that govern the treatment of prisoners, the sick and wounded, and civilians during war.
“Civilian communities and makeshifts for internally displaced persons were not spared from the Armed Forces of the Philippines indiscriminate artillery and air strikes despite the fact that AFP know very well that its strikes were hitting civilian concentrations.”
“Dozens of innocent civilians had been killed and injured as a result of the AFP operations, but the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Justice of the Government had never bothered to execute their mandates on this AFP carnage. Tolerating this AFP atrocities and crimes committed with impunity can be equated to more and more and countless victims,” the MILF said.
The independent Philippine Coalition to Protect Children Involved in Armed Conflict which investigated the shelling also blamed the military. It said the shelling came from the army’s 105mm cannons and the group provided photos of the wounded victims and a house hit by shrapnel.
“More than 20 rounds were fired by the military from Upper Salvo (village in) Datu Piang (town); Barangay (village) Nabundas in Mamasapano and Barangay Satan in Shariff Aguak (town in) Maguindanao and three (rounds) hit the Maahad Evacuation Center in Libutan. And one (round) also exploded at the Maahad Buayan Evacuation Center in Dapiawan (village in) Datu Piang town also in Maguindanao” the group said in a statement.
Government forces launched offensive against the MILF after peace talks collapsed last year. The military said some 100 rebels were killed in the offensives, but the rebel group disputed the reports and branded it as propaganda.
The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting the past three decades for self-determination in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)