Gov. Mendoza keeps hands-off policy on MNLF-MILF conflict in Kabacan

KABACAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/11 February) – The provincial government of Cotabato will not intervene in the land dispute that has triggered clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in a remote village here as both groups have already set up mechanisms to defuse the fighting, Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said.

Mendoza said she received reports that vested interests sparked the tension leading to the armed confrontation that has displaced about 9,000 villagers since January in Barangays Tamped, Simone and Nangaan.

She, however, told MindaNews via telephone they were still verifying if it was true that the Matalam family wanted to reclaim their former logging concession area in Barangays Simone and Nangaan for an oil palm plantation.

The Matalams operated a logging concession in the area in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mendoza said the government and the military will not intervene in the conflict to prevent it from escalating.

“In the first place, nobody has complained from both sides. It is their problem and we will let them resolve it because these groups have coexisted peacefully until a prominent family wants to put up an oil palm plantation in the area,” said the governor.

Nangaan is said to be occupied by MNLF members and neighboring Simone by MILF members.

In a statement, Bantay Ceasefire quoted Brig. Gen. Cesar Sedillo, commander of the 402nd Brigade as saying that “the Army was not in a position to resolve the issue.”

“I do not want to complicate the peace process,” Sedillo said as quoted in the Bantay Ceasefire statement.

MILF official Eid Kabalu said that both parties have formed a team to negotiate with the ground commanders to resolve the row but that their efforts have failed.

He added the MNLF leaders in the area are related to the Matalam family.

“But this is a very complicated issue, it involves so many issues from personal to political interests as well as economic interests,” Kabalu said over the phone.

He added negotiations between the MILF and MNLF to declare the area a “free zone” were still going on.

Al-Amer Bangsamoro, MILF provincial director for the committee on information, told MindaNews that on February 1 both parties signed a “cease and desist agreement” for MILF’s Commander Kineg and MNLF’s Datu Dima Ambil.

But Bangsamoro claimed that MNLF forces attacked MILF positions in Barangay Nangaan leading to sporadic clashes until evening of February 9.

“Still, we want to resolve this issue in a nonviolent way,” he pointed out.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office reported that Nangaan and Simone have become ghost villages.

Prioritize the civilians

Mendoza meanwhile said she has ordered the local government of Kabacan to prioritize giving aid to the affected families.

“The needs of the affected families of both sides, whether they are families of MILF or MNLF, should be taken care of. Their safety is our top priority because they have nothing to do with this conflict,” she stressed.

She added the police and military have tightened security in the national highways to prevent the conflict from spreading to other areas.

Social worker Honey Joy Cabellon told MindaNews that they have already extended relief aid to the displaced residents since last month.

Cabellon added most of the displaced families are from Nangaan and Simone.

“The villagers from Simone crossed the Pulangi River and are now staying in Barangay Pepboloan in Carmen. While most of the evacuees from Naangan are in Barangay Salupungan, also in Kabacan,” she said, adding, “nobody is left in these barangays.” (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)

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