Midsayap trader abducted; MILF says just ?invited?

Abdul Untong, a buy-and-sell trader who works for a village chair in Midsayap, was on his way home towards Barangay Tumbras when seized by unidentified armed men, around 5 p.m., Tuesday.

 

Lt. Regie Bernardino, spokesperson for the 602nd Brigade, pointed to elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the suspected abductors. MILF spokesperson Eid Kabalu confirmed the armed men were MILF members but denied the abduction.

“Untong was just invited to clarify some issues.   No, that was not abduction.   We did not order his arrest,” he said. 

 

Bernardino said a group of MILF members is keeping Untong somewhere in Liguasan Marsh, allegedly the headquarters of the 105th Base Command of the MILF.

 

Bernardino said Untong was suspected to be working for the government.    “But based on our records, we don’t have an Abdul Untong in our on list of military assets,” he clarified.

 

Kabalu, in an interview over DXND here, admitted that Untong was taken by elements of the 105th Brigade of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) based in Midsayap town.

 

He said one of the issues discussed with Untong was whether or not he was working for the military. 

 

Kabalu said he had yet to find out if Untong was still in Kato’s custody or was back home.

 

Army reports said  local officials in Midsayap, together with Barangay Tumbras chairman Edgar Ostique, had been negotiating with the local MILF field commanders for the release of  Untong since  Wednesday, January 31.

 

“We were informed that the local MILF leaders are asking for ransom in lieu of Untong’s release.   The LGU officials had been negotiating with the group of MILF Commander Umbra Kato,” said Bernardino.

 

The reported abduction came a day after the government and the MILF’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH), with the presence of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT), agreed to immediately cease firing and reposition troops in Midsayap.

 

The problem, however, with the agreement, according to Bernardino, “is that most of the field commanders of the MILF in Midsayap refuse to adhere to it.”

 

“So, instead of repositioning their troops from where they were before the fighting, the rebels have again started to advance,” he said.   

 

On Friday, some 6,000 individuals from three villages – Rangaban, Tugal, and Mudseng – in Midsayap evacuated to safer grounds as Army and militia clashed with MILF rebels.

 

The Philippine Air Force OV-10 planes bombed suspected rebel positions in these villages, Army reports said.

 

The Bantay Ceasefire, group of peace advocates in North Cotabato, said at least 16 bombs exploded in the area on Saturday morning.


The fighting stopped Saturday noon.

           

At least three civilian volunteers and an MILF rebel were killed. Two soldiers and several others were wounded during the exchange of mortar fire.

           

The wounded soldiers were identified as Pfc. Julius Ventura and Pfc. Geoffrey Montenegro, both members of the 7th Infantry Battalion. One of the wounded civilians was identified as Ronald Calugas, a resident of Rangaban.

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