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AFP war widens into two fronts as Maguindanao battle goes on

by Pesante-USA/AJLPP Tuesday, Jul. 04, 2006 at 6:53 AM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Pesante-USA reprinted the news about the increased fighting in Mindanao. The counter-insurgecnyw ar being waged by the Arroyo goverment is escalating not only against the NPA but also against the Moro people in Maguindanao. THE Armed Forces’ war against rebels has widened into two fronts as fighting between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces continued on Monday in Maguindanao province despite efforts of peace negotiators to end the clashes that have left dozens of people dead and wounded and displaced 3,000 families.

AFP war widens into two fronts as Maguindanao battle goes on

By Al Jacinto, Correspondent and Anthony Vargas, Reporter

THE Armed Forces’ war against rebels has widened into two fronts as fighting between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces continued on Monday in Maguindanao province despite efforts of peace negotiators to end the clashes that have left dozens of people dead and wounded and displaced 3,000 families.

The original AFP front, in its all-out war, was only against the communist rebels. The MILF is supposed to be in peace talks with the government. Top Philippine officials have many times expressed optimism that a final government-MILF peace agreement will be signed in September.

The battle in Maguindanao poses a threat to the peace agreement.

The MILF complains that AFP men have shelled them.

The MILF also blames AFP-supported militias working for Maguindano’s Gov. Andal Ampatuan for being behind the attacks on a major rebel base, Camp Omar, in Shariff Aguak town.

“Sporadic clashes continue. The militias are attacking us. We are only defending ourselves,” said Eid Kabalu, the MILF spokesman.

Murad Ebharim, chieftain of the MILF, has ordered rebel forces on Monday to remain inside their camps and defend themselves only from attacks. “The order of Brother Murad is for the rebels to stay put and defend their positions,” Kabalu said.

He said the MILF and government peace negotiators were trying to forge a local truce, but the AFP-backed militias continue their attacks on the rebels.

“Local police forces and soldiers failed to disarm the militias and authorities are virtually helpless in restoring peace and order in Maguindanao,” he said.

Kabalu also complained that military forces deployed in the province also attacked Camp Omar.

“Soldiers sympathetic to Ampatuan shelled the MILF camp many times last week and we have a filed a protest with the joint ceasefire committees, but military attacks still continue,” he said.

Kabalu said more than 40 militias and two MILF men have been killed in the weeklong clashes in Shariff Aguak, where 5 people had died and 14 others wounded in the June 23 bomb attack blamed by the police and military on the MILF.

The bomb, security officials said, was intended to assassinate Ampatuan of Maguindanao, a charge strongly denied by the MILF.

“The attacks on the MILF are clearly in retaliation for the killings of the 5 people in which the MILF had no connection,” Kabalu said.

Nori Unas, the provincial administrator, said Ampatuan’s convoy was passing by when the bomb went off near the town’s market. Police tagged Jamil Ombra, commander of the MILF’s 105th Base Command in Camp Omar, and his deputy, Sajid Pakiladato, as behind the roadside bombing in Shariff Aguak.

They said it was the MILF’s fourth attempt on Ampatuan.

Kabalu said thousands of civilians have fled their homes and that the fighting has spread to the towns of Datu Unsay, Mamasapano and Datu Piang, all in Maguindanao. He fears the fighting could affect the peace talks if the militias and sympathetic AFP soldiers continue to attack MILF forces.

“The clashes will stop only if militias stop attacking us. We are only defending ourselves,” Kabalu said.

President Arroyo opened peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, the country’s largest separatist rebel group fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern region, in an effort to put an end to more than three decades of fighting in Mindanao.

In Metro Manila the National Disaster Coordinating Council told the media on Monday that more than 3,372 families have been displaced by fierce fighting between government militias and Muslim secessionist rebels in Maguindanao.

At the same time, the media were told, the AFP has proposed that the MILF should pull out its fighters from its stronghold to stop the fighting.

Most of the affected families are staying in nine evacuation centers, the NDCC said.

The fighting started when the Civilian Volunteers’ Organization shelled with mortars Camp Omar of the MILF to force the rebels to surrender two of their commanders.

The MILF subcommanders, Jamil Ombra and Sajid Pakiladato, are being linked to an attempt on Ampatuan’s life late last month.

Maj. Gen. Rodolfo Obania, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division commander, said the proposal for the rebel pullout had been sent to the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

“It’s an MILF territory, but still, we proposed that the armed men leave the MILF area. Without arms, no violence will occur in the area,” Obania said.

But, he pointed out, the proposal was not meant to disarm the MILF rebels, and that the proposal was aimed to stop the fighting in the area that had already displaced thousands of people.

“We just want the armed elements to leave so the other MILF rebels can go about their livelihood, farming . . . they can come back but they should not be armed,” Obania said.

He disputed Kabalu’s claim that 40 Civilian Volunteers’ Organization have been killed in the fighting, saying that less than 10 militiamen were killed.

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