ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 15, 2009) – A proposal to grant amnesty or open peace negotiations with the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group is causing a demoralization in the police and military in the southern Philippines.
Senator Richard Gordon has proposed to grant amnesty to the terrorist group after the recent release of kidnapped Italian aid worker Eugenio Vagni after six months in captivity in the southern island of Sulu.
Sulu deputy governor Nur Ana Sahidulla also said that Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad told her that they are open for talks on amnesty. The Abu Sayyaf has been blamed for the spate of kidnappings-for-ransom and bombings in the Mindanao.
“We cannot afford to hold a peace talk to the Abu Sayyaf or worst allow they be granted amnesty. The Abu Sayyaf is a terrorist group that had killed not only policemen and soldiers, but innocent people as well.”
“There is growing demoralization now in the ranks of the military in Sulu and perhaps even in areas where soldiers are fighting the Abu Sayyaf,” said one government soldier, who spoke on condition that he would not be named.
Policemen in Sulu province also claimed the proposals to start peace talks or grant amnesty to the Abu Sayyaf has demoralized many of them.
“How many policemen were killed by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu? Our good provincial commander Julasirim Kasim was killed by the terrorists. They murdered innocent civilians, innocent Muslims. There must be no amnesty, not even peace talks. The Abu Sayyaf and their allies must also be killed so we may have peace in Sulu,” a policeman said.
Kasim was ambushed in May and killed along with were his brother and three other policemen.
Sulu Governor Sakur Tan has also opposed any amnesty to the Abu Sayyaf, saying, the government does not negotiate with terrorists. He blamed the Abu Sayyaf for the series of bomb attacks and kidnappings in Sulu.
“There should be no negotiations with terrorists. Terrorists must pay their crimes,” said Tan, who survived a road bombing in May blamed by the police and military to the Abu Sayyaf group.
Tan, backed by the government, has declared a state of emergency in Sulu to allow authorities to run after Abu Sayyaf supporters who are providing them refuge.
Philippine authorities said the Abu Sayyaf has links with the Indonesian terror group Jemaah Islamiya, who was also involved in the kidnapping of Vagni and two other Red Cross workers Swiss national Andreas Notter and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba in January in Sulu’s Patikul town.
Lawmakers also opposed the proposals, saying, it would go against the government’s policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro has rejected any amnesty with the Abu Sayyaf and ordered the military to pursue the terrorist group and its supporters.
The military said it will strictly follow the chain of command and that operations against the Abu Sayyaf will not cease. “The Armed Forces will strictly follow the chain of command. The operation against the Abu Sayyaf is continuing. We are focus in our mission and that is to fight terrorism,” Cacho said.
But Cacho admitted the proposed amnesty and peace talks with the Abu Sayyaf have become a big issue in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “It is a political issue. It is for the government to settle, but that’s a big issue in the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” she said.
Cacho said they have not received reports that troops were demoralized, but she was quick to say that the military respect the opinions of the soldiers. “Soldiers are entitled to their opinion and this should be respected,” she said.
Secretary Avelino Razon, the presidential peace adviser, also rejected amnesty proposal to the Abu Sayyaf, saying, it goes against the government’s policy of no-negotiations with terrorists.
It was unknown whether the proposed amnesty or peace talks with the Abu Sayyaf would affect US military assistance to the Philippines. Hundreds of US troops are deployed in the southern Philippines, including Sulu, and were helping the local military defeat the Abu Sayyaf since 2001.
The Abu Sayyaf is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by Washington.
Philippine authorities said several Jemaah Islamiya terrorists, among them Mauiya, Dulmatin, Zulkifli bin Hir and Umar Patek, who are all wanted by Indonesia for the spate of deadly attacks, including the Bali bombing in 2002, has joined the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu.
The US has offered at least $16 million rewards for their capture. (Mindanao Examiner)