Police, MILF blame each other for ambush

Initial media reports echoed claims by the police that some Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters initiated the attack, wounding four policemen including an officer.

But a Bantay Ceasefire team sent to Lakiki said it appeared that it was the police who attacked the MILF.

“Based on the accounts of the people in the community and ocular inspection in the site of the encounter, it can be said that it was the police who attacked the Moro rebels first,” Pastor Rey Montecillo, a member of the grassroots peace monitor, said.

The group also noted the presence of evacuees who were left to fend for themselves. It said 165 families from Lakiki and 100 others from nearby barangay Kabunan fled their homes.

Witnesses who are mostly of barangay officials alleged it was the police, who were positioned on a high ground, who fired at the MILF fighters who numbered about 40.

The firefight lasted from 8:00 a.m. until 12 noon.

The police reportedly asked for reinforcement from the 44th Infantry Battalion under Col. William Abao. Witnesses said the Army fired two 105mm howitzers and several mortars that turned out to be duds.

The only civilian casualty, Hadja Noraida Langgal, could not have been caught in the crossfire, witnesses said, as her house was not situated in the line of fire.

Bantay Ceasefire said 18 policemen from Sibuco arrived in Lakiki at dawn on Jan. 30 reportedly to serve a warrant of arrest against a certain Mulong.

It is very evident that the police were the ones who “ambushed the MILF rebels” because they were on a high ground, Montecillo concluded.

“It was also initially established that the police did not coordinate their mission even with barangay officials to avoid the encounter,” he said when asked if the police coordinated their mission to serve the warrant of arrest with the MILF.

Barangay Lakiki is a satellite camp of the MILF.

According to Salman Jawarie, the spokesperson of the 113th Base Command of the MILF, they had the consent of the government to stay in Lakiki as their “territory”.

“Because it is considered an MILF territory, the police should have coordinated with us to avoid the unfortunate incident,” Jawarie said in an interview.

Montecillo meanwhile said the government and the MILF should conduct further investigations to prevent an escalation of conflict.

“The situation is very volatile especially that one of the sons of the victim (Hadja Langgal) is a police officer assigned in nearby Sirawai town,” he said.

He also asked assistance for the 265 families who have evacuated. (Antonio M. Manaytay/MindaNews)

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