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Gov’t-MILF clashes go on in Cotabato

by AJLPP Tuesday, Aug. 05, 2008 at 9:23 PM 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

Skirmishes between government security forces and a group of Moro rebels in Libungan town in North Cotabato continued Monday, spilling over into the next town. “The fighting involving soldiers and MILF rebels had been ongoing since Sunday and now it escalated into Pigcawayan. The rebels are led by Commander Umbra Kato. The rebels are harvesting the crops of Christian settlers,” North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan said. But Eid Kabalu, MILF’s civil military affairs chief, told the Inquirer that they had not received reports that the fighting had escalated into the neighboring town.

Gov’t-MILF clashes go on in Cotabato

By Jeoffrey Maitem

Mindanao Bureau

First Posted 02:23:00 08/05/2008

KORONADAL CITY – Skirmishes between government security forces and a group of Moro rebels in Libungan town in North Cotabato continued Monday, spilling over into the next town.

“The fighting involving soldiers and MILF rebels had been ongoing since Sunday and now it escalated into Pigcawayan. The rebels are led by Commander Umbra Kato. The rebels are harvesting the crops of Christian settlers,” North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan said.

But Eid Kabalu, MILF’s civil military affairs chief, told the Inquirer that they had not received reports that the fighting had escalated into the neighboring town.

“There were no major incidents. This is just a ploy to postpone the signing of the deal in Malaysia,” Kabalu said.

On Sunday, about 250 families in Sitio Baliling, Barangay Gumaga in Libungan town left their homes and moved to safer grounds after some 100 Moro guerrillas launched offensives at about noon Sunday.

The incident was confirmed by Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson.

Three villagers were reportedly hurt.

The village, situated near Liguasan marsh with about 300 families, is in the border of Libungan, Midsayap and Pigcawayan towns, all in North Cotabato.

Quoting reports from civilians, Ando said the attacking rebels suffered an undetermined number of fatalities and wounded when militiamen and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit backed by police and soldiers engaged the guerrillas in sporadic gunfire.

Kabalu said the MILF forces were passing by the sub-village when fired at by villager defenders, triggering a gunbattle.

He denied that the MILF suffered casualties nor that there were civilian casualties.

Alfonso Linao, a resident of Barangay Gumaga, said the attacking rebels moved like ants as they stormed the sub-village of Baliling.

“People and children were seen running upon seeing men in fatigue uniform and armed with rocket-propelled grenades,” Linao, a farmer, told Libungan local executives.

He said before the attack, reports spread through text messages that the village would be attacked.

In a statement, North Cotabato Vice Gov. Emmanuel Piñol revealed that a top government official warned him that the Armed Forces would not be able to defend them “all out” because this is the policy of the administration.

“Hindi magpapakamatay ang mga sundalo para sa inyo (the soldiers will not die for you), was what he told me. I responded that if that is the policy of this administration, I and the people of the province would accept that as part of our fate. I told him that if the government cannot defend us, then we will defend ourselves from the atrocities of the MILF,” Piñol said.

“It is in this light that I now call on the people to be prepared for the worst. With the government bent on pressuring us into accepting the terms of an agreement that we have not even studied, we will have to rely on ourselves to defend our homes, our families and our communities,” he added.

Earlier, Piñol has warned that an armed conflict might erupt between residents in his province and the MILF if the government pushed through with the agreement.

“In the midst of this crisis, I call on you my beloved people to be strong and be brave, just as we had been strong and brave in the past, to resist this unjust and unfair imposition on us by our arrogant officials who believe that their lofty positions have given them the license to trample with the democratic right of our people to know and be consulted and ram down on our throats their twisted idea of peace at all cost,” Piñol said.

“I pray that as one of your leaders, I am making the right decision in protecting the future of our province and our children. If I am wrong, I am ready to face the consequences of my decision,” he added.

‘Imminent’ attack

In Manila, Army chief Lt. Gen. Victor Ibrado said the military would not hesitate to retaliate against MILF fighters if they stage an “imminent” attack against government troops.

“If the attack is imminent, we will not wait for them to shoot at us. We will not necessarily attack. Those are preventive actions or we will use the appropriate force if necessary,” Ibrado told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo by phone.

Ibrado was interviewed in reaction to a reported MILF harassment on government troops in Midsayap town last Sunday.

He gave his statement hours before the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF.

“Our guidance to our troops is we (will) uphold the primacy of the peace process. We have advised them to lengthen their patience, or to exercise more patience in dealing with situations,” Ibrado said.

The Army public affairs office Monday said that MILF rebels “harassed” Army troops in Midsayap.

About 20 MILF fighters under Commander Amirel Umbra Kato allegedly harassed soldiers in Barangay Baliki. With a report from Nikko Dizon in Manila

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