Mangudadatus, MILF declare ceasefire

BULUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/April 05) –  Reconciliation talks between the Mangudatus and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  following the ambush Sunday morning where eight Mangudadatu relatives and one MILF member were killed, ended at noon today with a declaration of a ceasefire.

Among those who attended the  meeting were religious leaders, political parties and the parties involved in the conflict.

At least 125 families from barangay Tenok in Mangudadatu town have fled the village to avoid getting caught in a crossfire, following  Sunday’s alleged ambush of relatives and supporters of the Mangudadatu clan in Mangudadatu town.

The governor of the province is Esmael Mangudadatu.  His brother, Freddie, is the mayor of Mangudadatu town.

Mayor Mangudadatu on Monday said the advance party  he sent to check on a road project in town were ambushed as soon as their pumpboat docked in the lakeside town Sunday morning. Eight were killed and three injured from the mayor’s “advance party” while one named “Moks,” reportedly of the MILF, was also killed.

He said the perpetrators were extorting money from those who were implementing the road project. “We have no other wish but to develop the area,” he said.

Conflict over land was blamed for the killings.

The MILF said it wasn’t ambush but an encounter. The MILF’s Eid Kabalu said the residents  reportedly got mad after the mayor’s group cut off the coconut trees which are the main source of livelihood in that area.

Kabalu said the civilians complained that “outsiders” harvested the coconuts and used chainsaw to cut off the coconut trees.

MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal said reports reaching him indicate what happened Sunday was “an encounter between armed civilians, many of whom are MILF members.”

“There is development aggression being pushed by the Mandudadatus (and)  opposed by the people there,” he said.

Governor Mangudadatu said the land they intend to open for development is for oil palm and rubber. But he  said the area is “a public land intended for the people.”

Iqbal said that a task force was created over a month ago by the Mangudadatus and the MILF to settle the conflict.

He said the MILF appointed Benjie Midtimbang and Von al Haq as its representatives to the task force. Both served in succession as chair of the MILF ‘s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH).

In today’s conciliation meeting, the MILF was represented by Boy Hashim and Ustadz Khalifa Nando.

Both parties admitted that “miscommunication” and “lack of coordination” led to  the tragedy. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)