Friday, August 14, 2009

Fighting subsides in southern Philippines; military gives honors to 23 slain soldiers

Family members weep Friday, August 14, 2009 as they view the remains of a soldier inside a gym in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. The military says 23 soldiers and 20 Abu Sayyaf militants were killed in Wednesday fighting in Basilan province.

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 14, 2009) – Fighting between troops and Moro rebels subsided in the southern Philippine province of Basilan as the military on Friday gave funeral honors to 23 soldiers killed in the clashes.

“There have been no reports of fighting in Basilan, but military operations against the Abu Sayyaf still continue,” said Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, commander of military forces in Mindanao.

Troops stormed an Abu Sayyaf camp in the hinterland village of Silangkum in Ungkaya Pukan town on Wednesday and seized weapons and improvised explosives. But soldiers also clashed with a group of Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the neighboring village of Baguindan that sparked daylong clashes that also killed 10 gunmen.

The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, accused government soldiers of attacking the rebels. It said troops also mutilated the bodies of three of rebels, including a senior MILF leader, killed in the clashes.

Dolorfino denied the MILF accusations. “That’s not true,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

On Friday, Dolorfino led funeral honors for the slain soldiers in Zamboanga City along with Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro and Armed Forces chief General Victor Ibrado.

Relatives and families of killed soldiers weep as fellow soldiers pay their last respect to the fallen marines and infantrymen. Coffins of soldiers were paraded inside the Western Mindanao Command headquarters where hundreds of soldiers and civilian employees lined up a road leading to the gymnasium where the caskets are put on display for public viewing.

“What did they do to our boy? He’s such a young soldier. He doesn’t deserve this brutality,” cried one woman.

And just across the woman, family members also gathered and weeping around a coffin of a soldier, whose face was deformed because of what looked like a hack wound. Two other caskets were closed to hide the wounds in the faces of the slain soldiers, both marines.

Lieutenant Colonel Gamal Hayudini, commander of the military’s 4th Civil Relations Group, said MILF gunmen engaged government troops, who were pursuing the Abu Sayyaf, in a firefight despite an earlier coordination between the military and the rebel group.

“The government forces were confident with the on-going peace negotiation, thus, making the troops believe that nothing will really happen since the MILF was informed of the pursuit operations but unexpectedly, they engaged in firefight with our forces. The MILF should not mislead the people by always passing on the blame to the government forces,” he said.

The MILF is the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which is fighting the past three decades for self-determination.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 in an effort to put an end to the bloody fighting in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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