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by AJLPP-USA Tuesday, Jul. 31, 2007 at 5:37 AM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is unfazed by the threat of “punitive action” from the government and urged it to review first the provisions of the ceasefire agreement before serving the warrants of arrest on those allegedly involved in the July 10 ambush of Marines in Basilan. MILF chief negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal said they are unfazed by the military’s threat to arrest those behind the ambush.

AJLPP RP Update 0730A

July 30, 2007

MILF unfazed by arrest warrants, military offensive

By John Unson

Monday, July 30, 2007

COTABATO CITY – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is unfazed by the threat of “punitive action” from the government and urged it to review first the provisions of the ceasefire agreement before serving the warrants of arrest on those allegedly involved in the July 10 ambush of Marines in Basilan.

MILF chief negotiator Muhaquer Iqbal said they are unfazed by the military’s threat to arrest those behind the ambush.

He said the government must not insist in intruding into MILF camps in Basilan to serve the warrants of arrest.

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the police officers who will serve the warrants will be supported by a large military force.

Most of the 130 suspects named in the ambush are members of the MILF, which had admitted killing the 14 Marines during the encounter in Tipo-Tipo. Ten of the Marines were beheaded and mutilated, which was denied by the MILF.

The MILF said its forces attacked the Marines because they had strayed into their territory.

The group rejected a military demand to turn over those behind the attack.

Iqbal said they would rather wait for the result of the investigation by the joint GRP-MILF ceasefire committee over the incident.

Iqbal said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should also wait for the results of the joint investigation in keeping with the security mechanisms of the ceasefire agreement.

He said hostilities in any area covered by the truce agreement are supposed to be resolved by the joint ceasefire committee, whose role is also to determine security measures to prevent undue encounters.

“Whoever imposes something on the other in total disregard of basic ceasefire rules agreed by the government and the MILF will commit breach of contract. It will not be good for the peace process,” Iqbal warned.

Iqbal said the joint ceasefire committee should be consulted first before the arrest. “Coordination is essential,” he said.

Iqbal said the MILF’s central committee has not received yet any copy of the warrant for the arrest of guerrillas implicated in the ambush.

He said they would have to wait for a copy of the court order from Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, head of the government panel in the joint ceasefire committee.

Dureza said the MILF is under obligation to surrender the guerrillas involved in the ambush.

“We are calling on them (MILF) to comply with legal procedures,” Dureza said.

“There is no special brief in the ceasefire agreement that the application of the law will be different for the MILF,” he said.

Dureza warned the continuous refusal of the MILF to surrender those involved in the ambush “could lead to the use of force and there could be bloodshed.”

AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said the military will focus on serving the warrants of arrest tomorrow for the 130 MILF guerrillas and Abu Sayyaf leaders suspected of killing the 14 Marines and beheading 10 of them in Tipo-Tipo.

Esperon said the military will help the police serve the arrest warrants once the final investigation by the joint ceasefire committee into the incident will be concluded today.

Esperon vowed to go full force against the suspects in the ambush.

“The more that we allow this to pass without getting punished, we will indeed encouraging more beheadings,” Esperon said.

AFP Information Office chief Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said the service of the warrants comes after the joint ceasefire committee concludes its findings.

Bacarro said the three-day period by President Arroyo is not an extension of the ultimatum given by the military for the MILF to turn over the suspects but to allow the joint ceasefire committee to finish its investigation.

“Since there is already a warrant for the suspects, that should be served,” he said.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has identified 130 suspects in the ambush and forwarded a seven-page list to the Basilan regional trial court for the service of arrest warrants.

Among the suspects are MILF commanders Nurhassan Jamiri, Long Malat Sulayman and Puruji Indama alias Sopek, also an alleged Abu Sayyaf member.

The others include Hamsa Sapantun, the MILF chairman in Basilan, commanders Not Muddalan alias Not, Suhud Limaya alias Hud, Sulaiman Murata, Hadji Dan Asnwai alias Adan and Long Hadji Masud.

The MILF was reportedly supported by Abu Sayyaf members identified as Commanders Furuji Indama and Nurshasan Kallilut Jamiri.

On Friday, President Arroyo ordered the suspension of military operations against the MILF for three days to allow the joint ceasefire committee to complete its investigation on the incident.

Tense situation

Tensions remained high in Basilan despite the order for the military to stand down.

Col. Ramiro Alivio, commander of a military brigade deployed in Basilan, said “intelligence operations and security patrols” were continuing but that there have been no large-scale movement of forces by either side and no armed contact has been recorded as of yesterday.

In a statement yesterday, the MILF appealed for help to “calm down the already tense situation,” although it added that, “massive deployment of troops without prior coordination is a violation of the (government)-MILF cease-fire agreement.”

Over 5,000 troops have been deployed in Basilan, forcing nearly 6,000 residents to flee their homes, according to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).

Gurrea, on the other hand, said the fact-finding team of the joint GRP-MILF ceasefire committee will present its investigation on the incident today, the deadline set by President Arroyo.

“We are doing our best and we are just hoping to finish it (by today) because there are still walk-ins who want to give their testimonies,” he said.

Gurrea described the accounts of the “walk-in witnesses” as “very important thing in the aspect of our investigation to determine who were the ambushers and those who beheaded the Marines.” Gurrea stressed their investigation is to pinpoint those behind the ambush and beheadings of the Marines.

Gurrea said his counterpart in the MILF, Von Al-Haq, will meet this week advocacy groups to discuss their concern over the looming offensive.

Gurrea said he and Al-Haq are just waiting for the investigation results of the fact-finding mission.

“After the investigation, the joint (ceasefire committee) can formulate measures that can prevent a repeat of the July incident in Albarka,” Gurrea said.

Local officials in Basilan are also helping the joint ceasefire committee in gathering evidence against the suspects in the ambush.

Basilan local officials earlier urged Malacañang and the AFP to allow them to intervene in the investigation of the Tipo-Tipo ambush.

The officials led by Sumisip town Mayor Haber Asarul said they have already witnesses that would also help pinpoint the culprits. – With Roel Pareño, Paolo Romero, James Mananghaya, Edith Reg

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