Thursday, October 20, 2011

MILF rebels ambush military convoy in Zamboanga province


Philippine soldiers guard a checkpoint in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 20, 2011) – Muslim rebels ambushed two military trucks transporting soldiers back to their camp in Zamboanga Sibugay province in the southern Philippines, a military report passed on to the Mindanao Examiner said.

The report blamed Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels for the attack which occurred at around 7:25 p.m. near the village of Gulayon in Alicia town.

It said two soldiers were killed and four others wounded, including an officer; and that a dozen others were also missing, among them was another officer.

The soldiers were heading to the Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade in the capital town of Ipil when rebels attacked them.

Military forces earlier on Thursday shelled MILF targets in the town of Payao near Alicia town, Von Al-Haq, a rebel spokesman, earlier said in an interview.

“Fighting erupted in Payao this morning after government forces attacked our positions for a still unknown reason,” he said, adding there were no immediate reports of casualties in the clashes.

Al-Haq said he still has no report about the ambush in Alicia town.

The latest fighting broke out after security and rebel forces clashed Tuesday in nearby province of Basilan and left 19 soldiers and five MILF gunmen dead.

The military also launched new operation on Thursday to capture rebels blamed for the deadly fighting in Basilan’s Al-Barka town. Both sides accused each other of violating a fragile truce that could affect peace talks between Manila and MILF.

Rebel leaders said government troops stormed an MILF encampment in the village of Cambug. But security officials claimed that rebels ambushed troops sent to the area, a known stronghold of the MILF, to verify the presence of armed men.

Military spokesmen had given the media conflicting reports. They said troops clashed with MILF forces, but later insisted the smaller and notorious Abu Sayyaf militants with ties to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya was responsible for the ambush.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines have ordered an investigation into the fighting and so was the joint cease-fire committee of both the government and MILF peace panels.

Army Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said there is an ongoing operation in Basilan to capture the rebels responsible for the killings of soldiers.

“There is an operation right now against them. They murdered our soldiers and that is no longer covered by the cease-fire agreement because it is purely a criminal act,” Cabangbang said.

Al-Haq said the fighting in Basilan could be a ploy by the military to stall or derail the peace talks. “They know that there is an existing cease-fire agreement yet the military broke this truce and launched an operation in our area,” he said.

Al-Haq said war could erupt in Basilan should government forces attack any of its strongholds in the troubled province, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.

“If they attack MILF positions then there could be war because our forces will have to defend themselves from aggression,” he said.

Manila is currently negotiating peace with the MILF and the fighting occurred after negotiations for a Muslim homeland failed in August.

Peace talks between Manila and the MILF ended in Kuala Lumpur in August 24 without any agreement that would put an end to decades of bloody fighting in Mindanao.

The Aquino government offered the rebels a wider autonomy in Mindanao through a referendum. The MILF, which is fighting for self-determination, said it would pursue a sub-state in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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