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8,000 families displaced in Sulu fighting; OIC steps in

by AJLPP Tuesday, Apr. 17, 2007 at 1:16 PM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles,CA 90026

More than 8,000 families ( 40,000 people)have fled their homes as Marines and Army troops hunted down renegade Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik and his men, who have killed 12 people in Sulu. For three days now, thousands of troops have been sent to Sulu to run after Malik’s band after he escaped when the military captured his sprawling hilltop encampment in Panamao, Sulu on Sunday. Reports said several MNLF commanders, along with an undetermined number of fighters from the towns of Pata, Daungdong and Capual in Sulu, are now fighting alongside Malik.

8,000 families displaced in Sulu fighting; OIC steps in

By Roel Pareño

The Philippine Star 04/17/2007

ZAMBOANGA CITY – More than 8,000 families ( 40,000 people)have fled their homes as Marines and Army troops hunted down renegade Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik and his men, who have killed 12 people in Sulu.

For three days now, thousands of troops have been sent to Sulu to run after Malik’s band after he escaped when the military captured his sprawling hilltop encampment in Panamao, Sulu on Sunday.

Reports said several MNLF commanders, along with an undetermined number of fighters from the towns of Pata, Daungdong and Capual in Sulu, are now fighting alongside Malik.

These MNLF fighters are said to have pre-positioned themselves in the vicinity of all military camps in Sulu to slow down reinforcements.

At dawn Sunday, three six-by-six trucks loaded with Marines out to reinforce troops in Tayungang and Panamao towns were ambushed by MNLF fighters positioned just outside the military camps.

Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza said about 8,400 residents of Panamao and outlying towns have fled their homes and were being given food rations in government shelters.

‘Stop fighting’

Meanwhile, the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) appealed yesterday to the Armed Forces and the MNLF to immediately stop the fighting, which is now on its third day.

In a statement posted on the OIC website, Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanogl called for the disengagement of the government and MNLF forces in Sulu.

"The Secretary General reiterates his appeal to the two parties to abide by the provisions of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement in letter and spirit and to resume negotiation in good faith for the full implementation of that Agreement," he said.

"The Secretary General will get in touch with the two parties to secure their agreement for the above-mentioned points and to consult with them about the constitution of a small military monitoring mission to observe the strict implementation of the suspension of military operations."

On the other hand, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael Seguis said the DFA will submit a reply to the OIC to explain what really happened in Sulu.

"The DFA is now preparing a reply to the OIC," he said.

Seguis said the terrorist groups Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) are the targets of military operations in Sulu, not the MNLF.

"The Philippine government is not violating the 1996 peace agreement," he said. "In fact, we are committed to implement it. There is nothing to be concerned about. This is law enforcement and it is a fight against terrorists. The military is looking for MNLF leader Habier Malik in Sulu for launching an unprovoked attack against the military, but at the same time there is an ongoing operation against terrorist groups even before clashes with MNLF that started on Saturday."

Seguis said the OIC’s proposal to set up a team to monitor the strict implementation of the peace agreement might not be necessary.

"I don’t think so," he said.

"We already have a peace agreement and there ought to be a cessation of hostilities. The military operations target the Jemaah Islamiyah militants and ASG. It’s a pursuit operation so why should we hinder or stop them."

Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (WestMincom) chief, said they can only confirm 12 rebels killed, but that soldiers on the front told him that Malik’s group had suffered a heavy toll.

"Many of the followers of Malik were dragging away their casualties," he quoted. 1Lt. Jose Dinglasan who is recuperating in the hospital from bullet wounds sustained in the fighting.

Cedo said Air Force OV-10 bombers busted the camp’s fortified bunkers with 250-pounder bombs to flush out Malik’s men.

"We want to make it clear, the operation is only centered on Malik and Kahid Ajibun, not the MNLF, that is why we are cautious in mentioning the MNLF as an organization which signed a peace agreement with the government," he said.

Cedo awarded medals and cash assistance to wounded soldiers at the Camp Navarro General Hospital inside the military base here.

"It is high time for the AFP to deal with the atrocities of Malik," he quoted Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. as saying.

Marine Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, Westmincom deputy chief, said a battalion of Marines is now occupying Camp Jabal Uhod in Barangay Bitan-ag after it was captured by government forces.

Malik occupied the camp after the military abandoned it three years ago, until it was retaken by troops last Saturday.

Amilbahar Amilasan, presidential assistant for Sulu under the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) and head of the disaster and coordinating council, said the hostilities have already displaced 8,400 families.

The displaced families came from the towns of Indanan, Parang, and Panamao, he added.

Amilasan said relief assistance has already been extended to the displaced civilians with the assistance of Sulu Rep. Munir Arbison.

"We are still in a tense situation here (Sulu)," he said.

Malik’s attacks

Amilasan said the attack staged by Malik destroyed a newly built school building and the town hall of Panamao that were funded by the US government and non-government organizations.

"It was unfortunate that this incident has overtaken the livelihood program we are conducting to better the lives and condition of the people in Panamao and other areas of Sulu," he said.

In Talipao, Army Special Forces hoisted the Philippine flag in an MNLF-controlled area Barangay Tiis after a brief resistance from MNLF guerrillas.

"The resistance was only minimal when we entered the area and we are able to occupy the MNLF camp under Ustadz Mamor," said Lt. Col. Reynaldo Aquino, Special Forces Battalion commander, in a report to Brig. Gen. Arturo Ortiz, Special Forces commanding general.

On the other hand, Malik could have already joined the Abu Sayyaf bandits after it was monitored that prior to the fall of Camp Bitan-ag, the Abu Sayyaf leadership was convincing Malik to allow them to join the fighting.

Troops in the Zamboanga Peninsula are monitoring the activities inside an MNLF camp in Siraway, Zamboanga del Norte, as well as four barangays in an MNLF-controlled area.The hostilities triggered by the bombardment by Malik and his men have left 20 people killed and displaced thousands of civilians.

Malik’s band launched mortar attacks that hit two Marine camps and houses near Panamao’s town hall late Friday to Saturday, killing two Marines and a child, the military said.

Fearing more attacks from Malik, a spiritual leader with about 300 to 500 armed followers, the military deployed up to 3,000 Army troops and Marines, backed by helicopter gunships, to seize Malik’s Panamao camp over the weekend but failed to capture him, military spokesman Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said.

Troops captured another MNLF encampment in nearby Talipao town Sunday, then caught up with a small pocket of Malik’s men Monday in a barangay in Panamao, setting off a brief clash that killed one rebel, he added.

Malik has been suspected of providing sanctuary to Abu Sayyaf guerrillas and Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists who have been on the run from a massive US-backed offensive that started in August. – With Pia Lee-Brago, Jaime Laude, AP


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