GMA flies to Zambo as GRP-MILF probe team goes to Basilan

Dureza said Arroyo will come as commander-in-chief of the 100,000 strong Armed Forces and is expected to give a major policy statement on the July 10 incident in Basilan where 14 Philippine Marines were killed, ten of whom were beheaded, in a clash with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas.

But before President Arroyo will land at the Edwards Air Base here at 10 a.m. tomorrow, the teams from the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Bantay Ceasefire, the civilian monitoring group, will proceed to Basilan to conduct a three-day investigation on the July 10 incident.

The Armed Forces had threatened to launch selective strikes in Basilan to arrest the perpetrators in the July 10 incident, a move that the MILF said would have serious effects on the stalled peace talks.

Dureza declined to give a hint on what the policy statement of President Arroyo will be tomorrow.

"Let no one doubt President Arroyo's adherence to the peace process. She will move in the most appropriate way to resolve this crisis," Dureza told reporters in a press conference here.

He said the effects of the July 10 incident have been a source of a major worry in the Cabinet security cluster meetings in Malacanang.

“We do not want to lose the gains of the relative peace we enjoyed in the past four years," Dureza said.

Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea , chief of the GRP CCCH said the teams will proceed to Barangay Guinanta in Al-Barka town, scene of the clash between the Philippine Marines and the MILF last July 10.

He said the teams have already come up with the list of of persons who would be interviewed to shed light on what really transpired during the day-long clash.

Gurrea said the team will stay in Basilan for three days to interview MILF and Philippine Marine commanders and residents of Al-Barka,  a town carved out of Tipo-tipo.

The presence of the CCCH teams and Bantay Ceasefire, however, did not calm the fears of residents of Al-Barka, Tipo-tipo and Lamitan towns.

Social Welfare Secretary Hadja Bai Racma of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said 1,033 families or 4,000 persons have evacuated and are living with their families in Lamitan town proper.

Racma said local and regional authorities cannot cope with a major deluge of evacuees if fighting breaks out in Basilan.

"We have only three-day supply of food. We do not have tents and clinics for that kind of exodus," she said.

As this developed, a group of Basilan town mayors went to see Dureza and Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo, chief of the Westmincom, in Zamboanga this morning.

The mayors said they are willing to produce the witnesses so that charges could be filed against the perpetrators of the July 10 incident. They said a witch-hunt would be a detriment to the government efforts of reconciliation in Basilan.

Dureza asked the mayors to furnish his office with names of the witnesses so he could give them to the CCCH. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)

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