Friday, August 28, 2009

Filipino senator holds public hearing in Zamboanga City, calls for suspension of peace talks with MILF rebels

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 28, 2009) – A Philippine Senator Rodolfo Biazon on Friday held a public hearing on the proposed suspension of the government’s resumption of peace talks with Muslim rebels following fierce clashes in Mindanao that killed 23 soldiers and injured more than a dozen more.

Biazon, the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on National Defense, on August 17 filed Resolution Number 1281 which calls for the suspension of the peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front until the Arroyo government could thoroughly study how the negotiations should be handled.

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

Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said government troops in Basilan attacked rebels which sparked a fierce fight that killed ten of their members.

He said the military attacked rebel forces despite a cease-fire deal and ahead of the resumption of the peace talks in October.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command said the operation in Basilan targeted the Abu Sayyaf and not the MILF. It also insisted that it coordinated with the MILF to avoid clashes between rebels and security forces.

Major Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said troops raided an Abu Sayyaf camp in the province.

Biazon said he met with soldiers who clashed with rebels in Basilan province on August 12 and interviewed them about the fighting.

He said he was shocked when he learned that the military failed to provide artillery support to the soldiers who were fighting more than 100 Abu Sayyaf militants in the village of Silangkum in Ungkaya Pukan town. The soldiers later clashed with MILF forces in nearby village of Baguindan.

Pamsy Tioseco, the senator’s media officer, said they invited mayors and governors of Mindanao in the public hearing held at the Garden Orchid hotel. Soldiers and policemen guarded the hotel during the hearing.

The military said about 31 militants and rebels were killed in the daylong fighting, but only 10 bodies had been recovered. The Stars and Stripes, in an article published on August 26, reported that U.S. special operations troops deployed in Mindanao, assisted Filipino soldiers in the raids in Basilan and helped treat the injured, but were not directly involved in combat.

The report, which quoted the U.S. Embassy, said the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task-Force Philippines, which has worked in the country since 2002, supported those raids "by sharing information and providing technical capabilities to assist (Armed Forces of the Philippines) leadership in communicating with their forces in the field."

Stars and Stripes is an independent news source that operates from inside the United States Department of Defense but is editorially separate from it. In addition to its website, Stars and Stripes reports on matters affecting military service members and publishes five daily newspaper editions for the United States Armed Forces serving overseas.

The U.S. military is helping the Filipino troops in defeating local terrorism. The Pentagon has recently announced some 600 American troops deployed in Mindanao will remain in the southern Philippines. (Mindanao Examiner)

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