South Cot officials: MILF tried to set up satellite camps contrary to IMT findings

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/17 June) —  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)  tried to set up satellite camps in Banga town, South Cotabato, contrary to the results of  an investigation conducted by the International Monitoring Team (IMT) last month, South Cotabato officials said.

Colonel Bin Waley Mohammad, IMT-4 head had earlier reported they did not find an MILF camp in Barangay Lampari in Sitio Lampakpak in Banga town.

But citing reports from village officials and residents, South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Pingoy Jr., maintained there was an attempt to build an MILF camp in the area.

“We will talk with the IMT so we can thresh out the truth,” he said, adding the province-led local monitoring team (LMT) had earlier launched an investigation on the matter.

Board member Jose Madanguit, LMT co-chair, said he disagreed with the findings of the IMT.

“They went to the area but the people they asked neither confirmed nor denied the report [that there was an MILF camp build up],”Madanguit said, noting the village chief in Barangay Lampari was not around when the IMT conducted their investigation.

The residents were telling them that they should ask the barangay chair, Madanguit added.

He said the LMT received reports that armed men believed to be members of the MILF had been moving around and allegedly firing their guns, causing fear among the residents.

In April, the Provincial Peace and Order Council (PPOC) passed a resolution urging the MILF to withdraw its forces who have allegedly been setting camps in Barangays Tudok in T’boli and in Lampari in Banga.

Madanguit said the LMT confirmed the MILF camp buildup in Barangay Tudok.

It was not clear if the IMT also included Barangay Tudok in their recent investigation.

Under the  mechanisms of the GPH-MILF peace panels,  complaints about alleged massing or setting up of camps are sent to the  Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the other. The Joint CCCH then conducts field verifications with the IMT.

Von Al Haq, MILF spokesperson, denied on Sunday that they have set up camps in the areas identified by South Cotabato officials although he confirmed that they have forces in the jungles of the province and  in Sarangani.

Al Haq claimed the MILF has a base acknowledged by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which he identified as Camp Khalid and is somewhere in the boundary of South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces.

South Cotabato officials earlier branded the reported setting up of MILF satellite camps in the area as a violation of the ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF, which are holding peace negotiations.

“We can’t allow them to establish any camp in the province. These have to stop immediately,” Pingoy said during the PPOC meeting in April.

Citing a report by the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion (IB), he said the rebels separately converged in the two areas earlier this year and started building encampments.

Pingoy said around 200 MILF rebels were reportedly spotted by government forces to have been moving toward Barangay Tudok, which is located near the mountainous boundaries of T’boli town in South Cotabato and Maasim in Sarangani province.

Lt. Col. Alexis Noel Bravo, 27th IB commander, earlier said their monitoring showed that around 40 MILFrebels supposedly under its 107th base command initially gathered in BarangayTudok to establish a camp in the area.

He said the rebels were allegedly led by a certain MILF commander Hams Ottoh Mastura aliasTaruc.

“They named the camp as Khalid al Wahid and initially conducted trainings and assemblies there,” Bravo said.

In Banga town, the official said an initial 11 MILF rebels reportedly occupied a portion of Sitio Lampakpak in Barangay Lampari allegedly to set up another satellite camp.

Pingoy said they oppose the establishment of MILF camps in the province as it might create tension and derail the local government’s socio-economic initiatives. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)