MILF asks IMT to probe Basilan clashes

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 October) — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has requested the International Monitoring Team (IMT) to immediately conduct an investigation on the clash in Al Barka town of Basilan Province on Tuesday as hostilities also erupted in Payao town in Zamboanga Sibugay at 8:30am on Wednesday.

The MILF’s call came amid the Army’s allegation that the MILF was “coddling terrorists,” an accusation immediately belied by chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal who described the military’s contention as “passé” and “overused”. It also came at a time when published reports put the Army casualty at 19.

Among the identified casualties were: 1st Lieutenants Colt Alsiyao and Frank Junder Caminos, 2nd Lieutenant Jose Delfine Khe, Privates First Class Alex Recafranca, Michael Miguel, Jordan Magno, Jonis Rigor, Ervin Dequito, Emerson Tugas, Jordan Olivar, and Privates Gerry Colonia and Dennis Bulan.

Reported wounded were 1Lt. Joy Boligueno, 2Lt. Fidel Susarno, PFCs Jeff Sherwin Domingo, Benjamin Marquez, Arnel Balili, Mario Flora, Joseph Muyco, Reynante Malina, Russel Alsaga and Pvt Leo Moniol.

On Thursday, the Bantay Ceasefire, an independent truce monitor, said they were still validating reports that more than 40 soldiers were actually killed in the 10-hour encounter on Tuesday in Sitio Bakisung, Barangay Cambug, Al-Barka.

Iqbal claimed that some 60 soldiers attacked an MILF position in Al Barka and corroborated the Bantay Ceaserfire initial report that said around 40 soldiers were killed in the encounter.

But in an article posted in their website (www.luwaran.com) today the MILF said 31 elements of the Army Special Forces were killed in Tuesday’s firefight.

“Twelve others were also wounded in action during the firefight. The native defenders suffered six killed and one wounded,” it added.

The military said 19 soldiers were killed six of whom were reportedly executed while in rebel custody.

In the same luwaran article, Khaled Musa, deputy chairman of the MILF Committee on Information, hit Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senator Panfilo Lacson for calling on government to launch an all-out war against the rebel group.

“You are supposed to be leaders of the whole nation and your call is reminiscent of the 16th century policy of Spain against the Moros of Mindanao,” Musa said, adding, “Your hands is [sic] still dripping with Moro blood and you have not yet paid for them.”

Musa was apparently referring to Enrile’s role as defense minister during the time of President Marcos, who imposed martial law and waged a war of suppression against the Moro people.

Iqbal said that the request they forwarded to the MILF has yet to wait for the “concurrence” of the government before the IMT, led by Maj. Gen. Dato’ Mahdi bin Yusop, could act on it.

Yusop did not answer a phone call and a text message supposedly to ask him what his office has been doing with regard to the Al Barka incident.

Iqbal said the fighting in Zamboanga Sibugay has all the more “reduced the trust and confidence” of the government and MILF peace negotiators who are supposed to meet next month following an impasse in the negotiation caused by the so-called “heaven and earth” gap between the respective proposals of both camps.

The MILF has proposed a Comprehensive Compact that proposed government recognition of a Bangsamoro sub-state with asymmetrical relationship with the national government.

The government panel, chaired by Dean Marvic Leonen, has offered a “three-for-one” formula that includes a development package, reforming the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and correcting the narratives of the Moro history.

In July 2007, twelve soldiers were also killed and beheaded in Al Barka, Basilan. The incident was immediately investigated by a Malacanang-organized independent fact-finding commission composed of government, MILF and Bantay Ceasefire representatives.

The findings pointed to the Abu Sayyaf as the culprits. (Romy Elusfa/MindaNews Contributor, with reports from H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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