Civilian peace group: Land dispute caused Midsayap skirmishes

The four-day armed confrontation forced around 6,000 people to evacuate as both parties were reported to have massed troops, shelled mortals and launched air strikes, Bantay Ceasefire said in its January 29 report.

The report also pushed for 12 recommendations, including the investigation of  the two parties’ alleged violations of the ceasefire agreement.

"Everyone agrees that the root cause of the conflict is land dispute, but not everybody knows it is a deep-seated and very complicated problem that involves a lot of individuals, some of them economically and politically powerful," the report said.

The group recommended the creation of a special task force to resolve the problem including representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bureau of Lands, Land Registration Authority, among others.

The report said prolonged efforts to resolve the problem had caused some claimants "to put the law into their hands.”

The group reported that aside from an identified 19-hectare parcel of land, at least 3,000 hectares more were estimated to be disputed in the area.

The report cited land conflicts between Moro and non-Moro claimants from Carmen, North Cotabato and Korornadal, South Cotabato. But there were also cases of Moro clan feuds or rido, which the report said, complicated the problem.

The report cited a so-called voluntary offer to sell scheme by a non-resident of the village who listed names of Muslims in Mudseng village as beneficiaries, allegedly including those who do not work in the disputed lands. Reportedly, those who work in the lands were excluded.

Residents who were not listed and are reportedly armed, allegedly insisted on occupying the claimed lands by force.

The report quoted the MILF as saying it has started a process of resolving the conflict.

On January 25, the report said, there was an early morning armed encounter between members of the Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVOs) or Bantay Bayan and alleged members of the MILF in Sitio Taboboc, Barangay Rangaban. A Bantay Bayan member was killed, triggering fighting between government and MILF troops.

The report said that in the evening, the Army's 7th Infantry Battalion was deployed in the villages of Mudseng, Rangeban, and Nes.

A day after, Bantay Ceasefire recorded both camps exchanged mortars twice, first at 6a.m. and then at 3p.m., leaving two soldiers wounded.

The MILF's peace-keeping forces installed by both the government and rebel groups were reportedly dragged in the fighting.

The armed encounters continued on the ground up to January 27, Saturday and at around 10a.m. two government planes dropped bombs in Mudseng.

The report said the bombings forced the villagers out of Tugal, Rangeban, Nes, Nabalawag and Tumbras.

The report said the MILF started massing troops as the Army sent the 40th Infantry Battalion for reinforcement.

The MILF said fighting stopped Saturday afternoon. Both camps disengaged following a call from the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team for a meeting with both camps the following day.

The Bantay Ceasefire alleged the two camps violated the 2003 ceasefire agreement through the use of aerial bombing, mortar shelling, massing up of troops. The group has recommended an investigation.

The government and the MILF are expected to resume talks following an impasse over the territory strand of ancestral domain in September.