Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Troops liberate Philippine island after firefight with gunmen

MANILA, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / August 19, 2009) – Marines have killed 7 members of the former Muslim rebel group called Moro National Liberation Front in a firefight Wednesday on a small island they occupied in Palawan province in western Philippines, the military said.

It said soldiers stormed the island of Matangule off Palawan province and liberated villagers held by former rebels. It was unclear why the gunmen led by MNLF leader Abdullah Abdurajak occupied the island, but the military said the former rebels had held hostage dozens of civilians since Sunday for a still unknown reason.

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

The military said two gunmen were also captured during the fighting, but others escaped despite the presence of navy patrol boats around the island, home to a few thousand Muslims, mostly fishermen.

The MNLF, under Nur 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.

Last year, Misuari earned the ire of the Malaysian government after he renewed calls of the claims of the Philippines to Sabah. In retaliation, Sabah Progressive Party President Datuk Yong Teck Lee, furious over the rumblings from Misuari, has called for stricter laws on Filipinos traveling to the oil-rich state. (Mindanao Examiner)

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