Report on ceasefire violations probe out by mid-March

Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea said the adhoc committee has zeroed in on the alleged violations by both partiers in Midsayap, North Cotabato in a series of clashes last month.

He said the findings could be out around March 15.

The fact-finding mission, an adhoc committee led by the International Monitoring Team (IMT), will collect and validate data in the field to see "who started who" in the clashes, Gurrea told MindaNews in an interview Monday.

The mission is composed of representatives from the government and the Moro rebels, civil-society organizations like the grassroots-based Bantay Ceasefire.

Gurrea assured whatever the outcome of the investigation of the incidents he identified as "isolated cases" would be properly carried out.

He said they are counting on the local government in Midsayap and North Cotabato to address the problem of land conflict, which is reported to be the cause of the clashes.

Bantay Ceasefire, a civilian ceasefire monitoring group, said in a report on January 29 there is consensus the root cause of the clashes was 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.

Gurrea said there is substantial reduction of the number of violations — from 15 violent incidents in 2005 to eight in 2006. He predicted it will be cut further this year.

Panels of both parties, in a joint resolution on January 28, agreed on the mission after the MILF complained of major violations of the 2003 ceasefire pact.

Bantay Ceasefire pushed for the investigation of both parties’ alleged violations, which is among the group's 12 recommendations in the aftermath of the clashes in Midsayap.

The four-day armed confrontation forced around 6,000 people to leave their homes as both parties were reported to have massed troops and fired mortars, the Bantay Ceasefire report said. It added that the government even launched air strikes.

Gurrea said the mission is looking at the reported cause of land conflict, but other angles could also be pursued.

To resolve the land problem, Bantay Ceasefire recommended the creation of a special task force that would include representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Bureau of Lands, Land Registration Authority, among others.