Thursday, August 20, 2009

Philippine soldiers blamed for killings of MNLF gunmen in Palawan province

Former Moro National Liberation Front rebel leader Nur Misuari gestures to his supporters in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines in this photo taken last year. Misuari has blamed the military for the killings of 7 MNLF members in a firefight on an island off Palawan province on Wednesday, August 19, 2009. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 20, 2009) – Former Muslim rebel chieftain Nur Misuari on Thursday blamed the Philippine military for the killings of seven of his followers in a firefight on an island off Palawan province.

Marines have killed 7 members of the former Muslim rebel group Moro National Liberation Front in a firefight Wednesday on a small island they occupied.

Three others were reportedly killed by soldiers when they tried to escape the security forces sent to liberate civilians allegedly held by MNLF gunmen on Mantagule Island.

The military said MNLF gunmen by Abdullah Abdurajak occupied the island and held hostage dozens of civilians for a still unknown reason. It said the gunmen also extorted money from the villagers.

The hostages were later freed, but the rebels, numbering about five dozens, refused to surrender peacefully and opened fire on soldiers, sparking a fierce firefight. One soldier was also wounded in the fighting.

Many gunmen were also able to escape from the soldiers and are being pursued by the military in Palawan.

Misuari has denied allegations by the military that Abdurajak’s group extorted money or held hostage villagers on the island. “The MNLF is (composed) of a very disciplined soldiers of peace. We are not involved in any shenanigan,” he said, branding the killings as massacre.

He said he tried to convince the military to resolve the crisis peacefully, but security officials did not listen to him.

Misuari said most of the people living on the island are Muslims and relatives of Abdurajak. He blamed Abdurajak’s foes for giving false information to the military about the former MNLF leader.

He said most of those killed by the soldiers were fishermen. The military has demanded the MNLF on the island to surrender and lay down their weapons.

But Misuari said soldiers could kill the MNLF if they lay down their arms.

“If they lay down their arms, the more they will be massacred. Even when they are armed they are also being massacred. So it’s better if they have something in their arms to protect themselves because they are entitled to right of self-defense.”

“The government should not push with their plan to arrest all members of the Abdurajak family. They are innocent and even children are arrested,” he said in a television interview.

Misuari said the arrested children were not combatants. “They should release them quickly,” he told the ANC.

The MNLF, under Misuari, signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 and ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.

Under the peace accord, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the South and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

Misuari is facing rebellion charges after his followers tried, but failed to occupy a major military base in Sulu province in the southern Philippines and another group held hostage over 100 people in Zamboanga City in 2001 in an attempt to stop the elections in the Muslim autonomous region.
Misuari fled to Sabah, his former refuge, but was arrested by the Malaysian authorities and sent back to Manila. Misuari is currently out on bail.

The MNLF Central Committee removed Misuari as chairman of the former rebel group and installed Muslimin Sema, the Front’s Secretary-General. But Misuari insisted that he is still the chieftain of the MNLF and accused Sema, also the mayor of Cotabato City, as traitor and so were those who supported Sema. (Mindanao Examiner)

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