Joint GRP-MILF probe on Basilan clash starts

Three rusting hulks — two dump trucks owned by the Basilan provincial government and a Philippine Marine M35 6×6 truck — lay on the muddy road: a mute testimony of the violent clash that left 14 Marines and six MILF rebels dead.

But as members of the GRP and MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Bantay Ceasefire seek answers to what transpired here last July 10, they found out that they have more questions left unanswered.

Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, chief of the GRP CCCH, said they have interviewed all of the senior MILF commanders involved in the July 10 gunbattle after the team arrived in barangay Guinanta.

On Saturday, Gurrea said it will be the turn of the Marine officers to be interviewed by members of the fact-finding team. He said a total of 23 witnesses who have direct knowledge of the incident will be interviewed.

"Hopefully we can have all the answers by July 30. The entire country is waiting for the results of the investigation," he said.

President Gloria Arroyo, who visited the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City last Friday, have urged the public to wait for the results of the investigation from the fact-finding team.

Von Al Haq, MILF CCCH chief, said they are doing their best to ensure the impartiality of the investigation and have taken steps to stop any "premature" announcements to the media.

"Do not fire the first shot. No massing of our forces. Take only defensive actions," Al Haq told MILF commanders in barangay Guinanta.

He said any renewed fighting in Basilan will certainly spread throughout Mindanao, a scenario the MILF is trying to prevent from happening.

"We will lose what we have gained in the peace process. I enjoin not only the Philippine military officers but also all MILF commanders not to make provocative statements that would imperil the peace process," Al Haq said.

He said one of the things that the team have decided to do in Basilan is to set up a mobile Joint Monitoring Team (JMT) similar to that was successfully implemented in Central Mindanao.

He said the JMT shall be composed of representatives from the local government units, Armed Forces, the MILF and Bantay Ceasefire.

"Maybe we can set it up in Tipo-tipo so it can respond immediately," Al Haq said.

The team went direct to barangay Guinanta after paying a courtesy visit to the Basilan provincial officials Friday morning.

When the team arrived in Tipo-tipo town, it was evident that news reports that its villages have become "ghost towns" was not true.

Instead of "ghost villages", the team found that there was normal commercial activity along the highway from Lamitan town to Tipo-tipo, where traders were having brisk business on their market day.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Social Welfare Secretary Hadja Bai Racma said many of the evacuees came from the town of Al-Barkah, not from Tipo-tipo and Sumisip town as earlier reported.

She said many of the 1,033 families or 4,000 persons have built makeshift tents in Tipo-tipo town and have expressed their desire to go back to their homes once the tension have subsided. (By Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

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