Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mindanao military commander retires, now wants to become peace advocate

Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Nov. 10, 2010) – The commander of Philippine military forces in Mindanao retired on Wednesday and vowed to pursue peace efforts in the troubled region.

Lieutenant General Benjamin Dolorfino, head of the Western Mindanao Command, had served for more than a year as regional military chief. It was not immediately known who would replace Dolorfino, who now wanted to continue his peace advocacy even after he retired.

But many Muslims in Sulu were not impressed with Dolorfino’s advocacy and criticized for ordering a massive bombing campaign last year in the province which coincided with the celebration of the Eid’l Fitr, which signals the end of Islam’s holiest month.

The bombing campaign, which killed several civilians, triggered widespread attacks by Moro National Liberation Front rebels against military targets and condemnation from human rights and peace advocates.

Dolorfino, who converted to Islam, said the campaign targeted Abu Sayyaf militants whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya. But the rebels claimed the bombings were directed at them.

The rebels had previously held Dolorfino - then with the Philippines Marines - hostage along with senior defense officials while visiting Sulu province in 2007.

Rebel forces under Habier Malik and Khaid Ajibun held Dolorfino’s group and Defense Undersecretary Ramon Santos and 23 soldiers and staff of Presidential peace adviser, Secretary Jesus Dureza and demanded the release of Nur Misuari, the group’s leader who was then being detained in Manila on rebellion charges.

Misuari signed a peace deal with the Philippine government in September 1996, ending more than 20 years of bloody fighting in the southern Philippines.

After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari became the governor of autonomous region. But many former rebels were disgruntled with the accord, saying, the government failed to comply with some of its provisions and uplift their standards of living. They accused the government of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the south, which remain in mired in poverty, heavily militarized and dependent financially on Manila.

In November 2001, on the eve of the ARMM elections, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and his followers launched a new rebellion in Sulu and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.

Misuari escaped by boat to Malaysia, but was arrested there and deported to the Philippines. He was eventually freed in 2008 after Manila dropped all charges against him for lack of sufficient evidence. (Mindanao Examiner)

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