MILF official: cut militants’ resupply route to end siege

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MILF chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/11 July) — Ending the Marawi siege will require cutting the militants’ resupply route, a top official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said.

Describing the Marawi fighting as turning into a war of attrition, MILF information and peace panel chief Mohagher Iqbal emphasized the need to “deprive the militants of the opportunity to resupply (so that) the siege cannot last for long.”

“If that is achieved, the militants will only be left with the will to fight. In war, that alone cannot take you far,” he added.

Per official data, some 400,000 displaced people are waiting for the war to end so they can return home. Those from Marawi fled to escape the crossfire while those from nearby towns evaded the specter of hunger as food supply in their localities dwindled.

Seven weeks on, the Marawi has persisted amid calls to have the martial law in Mindanao extended.

The MILF has downplayed the capacity of Islamic State-inspired militants to besiege Marawi City for an extended period, expecting the war to end soonest.

“The fighting in Marawi City is going to end soon, God willing! There is no doubt about that. The Maute group cannot hold on any longer,” the MILF said in a statement posted on its official website.

But the group did not give an estimate of the staying power of the so-called Maute terrorists who are joined by fighters of the Abu Sayyaf whose leader, Isnilon Hapilon, is said to be the southeast Asian emir of the Islamic State to which the Lanao militants pledged allegiance.

TENT CITY. A heavy equipment levels the area in Pantar, Lanao del Norte which will host a tent city for evacuees from Marawi City. Photo taken on July 11, 2017. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

Iqbal explained that unlike revolutionary organizations, the Maute group and its allied forces are “not an established army hence these are dependent on volunteers.”

“And absent a clear political agenda, it is difficult to generate a horde of volunteers who will fight to the death in battle. By contrast, the MILF has a deeper reserve of fighters but its military activities are calibrated on the basis of its political objective, ” Iqbal said over the phone.

Iqbal is a veteran in over 40 years of fighting for Moro self-rule in Mindanao. The rebellion started in 1972 under the umbrella of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). But the MNLF splintered into factions after MNLF founding chair Nur Misuari opted for autonomy by signing the Tripoli Agreement in 1976.

The late Hashim Salamat officially formed the MILF in 1984 to pursue the struggle for secession. But the MILF later agreed to drop the bid for secession and settle for a Bangsamoro political entity with wider powers and territory.

Prior to signing a peace deal with government, the MILF fought four major wars with the Armed Forces, the longest of which was in 2000, lasting some five months that concluded with the capture of its main camp in Maguindanao. At the time the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed in March 2014, the group had around 12,000 fully armed fighters.

Styling itself a local IS branch, the Maute group, on the other hand, has vowed to create a Mindanao wilayah (province) of the so-called Islamic caliphate to be governed by Shariah, a system of laws based on the Qur-an.

But the MILF finds this goal vague. “Building a caliphate is more in the mind rather than an immediate possibility.”

Still, the idea drew in as much as 700 fighters when the siege was pulled off on May 23, per estimate of Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., chief of the Western Mindanao Command.

Early last month, Galvez estimated that the militants could go on fighting for some two more months given the cache of weapons and ammunition they have, either looted from homes and business establishments, or stacked up in advance.

Decisive factors

Weeks of war has wrought havoc on Marawi’s public infrastructure and private properties, either razed down by militants or destroyed by aerial and artillery bombardments.

Some evacuees from Marawi City find shelter in a tent city in Barangay Landa Pamana Gadungan, Balo-i town in Lanao del Norte on 11 July 2017. Two families live inside this tent measuring 12 feet x 13 feet. MindaNews photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

President Duterte has turned down calls to negotiate terms of disengagement with the militants to save Marawi from further ruin, preferring to have the fighting end “until the last terrorist is taken out.”

“To our mind, the best option for government is to end the fighting naturally, meaning, if it can be won any time from now, end it,” the MILF statement read.

“Exhaustion, dwindling supplies of ammunition and food, and unmatched government air and artillery superiority, as well as the steady flow of military reinforcements will prove decisive in determining the outcome of the fighting (in Marawi),” the MILF emphasized.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has ordered the Armed Forces to flush the militants out of Marawi in time for the second State of the Nation Address of President Duterte on July 24.

The military earlier said the space under the militants’ control has constricted significantly, estimating it to be about a square kilometer or about a hundred hectares which mainly spanned across the besieged city’s commercial districts.

Government troops have been clearing the areas building by building, slowed down by sniper fires from militants positioned in buildings and houses built like fortresses.

Caution urged

Amid the apparent disadvantages faced by militants, the MILF counseled government “to exercise caution” as “forcing this war to conclude prematurely can prove very costly,” citing some 82 soldiers who died and over 400 wounded in battle.

“(But) not ending it soon especially when all the signs are leading to it, can boomerang to the credibility of government. It might be interpreted as not minding at all the safety and interests of the civilians who are still suffering in evacuation centers,” the MILF added.

As of July 9, the National Emergency Operations Center accounted some 410,457 persons belonging to 89,589 families displaced due to the fighting in Marawi. Of these, some 23,339 persons belonging to 4,277 families are staying in 87 evacuation centers while 85,312 families, or 387,118 persons are staying in the homes of relatives. (Ryan Rosauro/for MindaNews)

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