Sunday, September 20, 2009

Military offensive disrupts Muslim festival in Southern Philippines

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chieftain Murad Ebrahim leads the breaking of fast on Sunday, September 20, 2009 in the southern Philippines. In Sulu province, the military launched offensive against Abu Sayyaf and Moro rebels, disrupting the celebration of the Hari Raya, which signals the end of the holy month of Ramadan. (Mindanao Examiner Photo / Mark Navales)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / September 20, 2009) – Government forces shelled Sunday a mountain stronghold of suspected Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippine province of Sulu.

The attack, which occurred shortly before 7 a.m. in the town of Indanan coincided with the start of Hari Raya festival which signals the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Several Muslims said the sounds of explosions from the shelling had disrupted solemn prayers in mosques. Angry Muslims cursed the military for disrespecting their tradition.

The Malay words ‘Hari Raya' translate as 'Day of Celebration' or the ‘Festival of Breaking the Fast'. Muslims usually attend Eid prayers in mosque in the morning. The celebrations begin with the birth of the new moon of Syawal, the 10th month of the Islamic calendar.

The military said the offensive was aimed at capturing wanted persons. “There are some identified suspects who have standing warrants. I regret I can’t discuss operational details yet,” Major Ramon David Hontiveros, a spokesman for the military’s Western Mindanao Command, told the Mindanao Examiner.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the shelling.

Police said it received unconfirmed reports the military operation was directed at Abu Sayyaf leader Albader Parad in the mountain village of Talibang.

But a Moro rebel leader, Madarang Sali, deputy supreme commander of the Bangsamoro National Liberation Front, said the military offensive targeted a stronghold of Khaid Ajibun, a senior leader of the Moro National Liberation Front in Camp Marang near the village of Talibang.

“The Muslims are celebrating the Hari Raya, but what greeted us are bombings from military aircrafts,” he said in a statement sent to the independent regional newspaper, the Mindanao Examiner.

Sali accused the military of terrorizing the Muslims in Sulu, an accusation strongly denied by the armed forces.

“The Bangsamoro National Liberation Army declares publicly and calls and manifest our Islamic solidarity behind our brothers-in-Islam and to support the declaration of Jihad against the Philippine Government and Armed Forces of the Philippines for the restoration of sovereign states of the Bangsamoro Homeland. There are no terrorists in our homeland, but we are being terrorized by Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.

The MNLF signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, but many of its members were disgruntled by the agreement and accusing the government of failing to honor the provisions of the accord.

Under the peace agreement, 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.

It was unknown who ordered the offensive or what triggered the shelling, but Hontiveros said: “The suspects might be mustering a lot of conventional resistance necessitating the use of indirect fire weapons. We sincerely hope that these people who are suspected of complicity in crimes will peacefully submit to the courts where they can defend their name.”

Hontiveros said the offensive was part of a surgical operation against terrorists who were blamed for the spate of bombings in Sulu, but cut short of tagging the Abu Sayyaf in the attacks.

“It’s our common fight against the evils of society. This is surgical operation directed against terrorists who are destroying the image of Islam. They bombed and disturbed us twice during Ramadan. They hurt two Muslim soldiers going to mosque to pray. We are doing this for the good of peace and law-abiding Muslims. The disturbance and inconvenience now may make our Ramadan peaceful in the future,” Hontiveros said. (Mindanao Examiner)

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