MILF violated ceasefire – NorthCot town mayor

TULUNAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 30 May) – The mayor of the municipality of Tulunan in North Cotabato accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of violating the ceasefire agreement it inked with the Philippine government when it launched an attack against civilians, police, and military forces in a village here over the weekend.

Mayor Lani Candolada said in an interview she personally experienced how the rebels attacked them when they proceeded to Sitio Malipayon, Barangay Maybula, around 9 a.m. last Saturday to assess the situation after receiving reports that a group of armed men have been harassing the villagers, mostly B’laan natives and Christian settlers.

She said she was with the military, police, and Barangay Peacekeeping Action Team (BPAT) members when fired upon by small and big firearms. The mayor was certain the attackers were MILF rebels.

“During the multi-lateral dialogue held on May 28 at Datu Paglas, Maguindanao, members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) admitted to us that the area where the mortar fires and sporadic firing originated was an MILF camp,” said Candolada.

Under attack

The mayor recounted that when they were attacked, she was negotiating with the IMT, with MILF vice chair for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar, and with the mayors of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Datu Paglas in Maguindanao for them to help stop the firing. “After an hour, it stopped,” said Candolada.

But 10 minutes after they left, the MILF rebels positioned at Sitio Barko-Barko pounded at least five mortar fires on the place, Candolada said.

Sitio Barko-Barko, according to the mayor, is considered a “high ground” and thus offers a “very strategic position.”

It is the subject of a boundary dispute between the municipal governments of Tulunan in North Cotabato, Datu Paglas in Maguindanao and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

Using a telescope, she said she saw the MILF rebels position themselves at Sitio Barko-Barko. “This is high ground.  So when you are on top of that hill, you can see the movement of the PNP, AFP, and even the civilians,” Candolada said.

The harassment at Sitio Malipayon reportedly started on the night of May 24 when BPAT members monitored a group of armed men massing at Sitio Barko-Barko.

MILF only defending camp

MILF commander Abner Maniba, of the 109th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said over radio station dxND that they did not start the firing but were only defending their perimeter camp.

BPAT members were reportedly chasing a group of cattle rustlers when they saw armed men exiting towards Sitio Barko-Barko, a Moro-dominated place.

Maniba said that BPAT members entered their perimeter, the MILF did not fire on them. “We waited one day,” he said.

But then on May 24 the BPAT members shot a farmer identified as Tatang Manding, the MILF commander said. “His relatives fought back, using their own firearms. But when the BPAT members continued to enter our perimeter, that was the time we decided that we have to defend our camp,” Maniba explained.

Pregnant ‘bakwit’

Lilibeth Saban, 19, a pregnant mother from Sitio Malipayon who is about to give birth, said she and other families left their homes around 12 midnight of May 24 and stayed for two nights in the mountains to avoid being hit by mortars and gun fires.

“The warning was so immediate. Our barangay officials told us to leave our homes as the MILF rebels have already surrounded our place. We were so afraid. We did not know what to do,” she said.

She ended up bringing only her son and a few important things as they ran for safety.

While in the mountains, she heard loud gun fires and explosions. At that time, she felt severe abdominal pains and thought it was time to deliver her baby.

“We continued walking until we reached Barangay Kanebong (also in Tulunan). After that, I rode a motorcycle so I could reach the nearest clinic. But the health workers told me it’s not yet time to deliver the baby. Maybe the severe abdominal pains I felt that time was due to too much fear,” Saban said in the dialect.

She is among the more than 400 individuals who left the place at the height of the armed fighting between the BPAT members and the MILF rebels.

They are housed temporarily at the barangay hall and multi-purpose building at Barangay Maybula.

Mayor Candolada said the evacuees are being taken care of by barangay officials and health workers through funding support from the municipal and barangay LGUs.

Dialogue

On Tuesday, Candolada led the multi-lateral dialogue attended by LGU executives from Datu Paglas and Columbio towns, top military and police officials, and representatives from the governments of Malaysia and Brunei in the IMT.

Brig. Gen. Cesar Sidello, of the government’s coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities, was also present during the meeting that lasted four hours.

They drafted a resolution where the three mayors agreed to put up a composite team led by the PNP and supported by the military along the tri-boundary.

Candolada said this is to ensure the safe return of civilians who were peacefully tilling their lands.

She said she left a clear instruction to the government forces deployed in Sitio Malipayon: “Do not abandon the place.”

“Once the police and the military abandon the place, the thickly-populated area would become vulnerable to the attacks of the MILF or whatever forces present there,” she stressed.

“With all these negotiations, I was hoping and praying that there would be an immediate solution to the problem. I am confident that all forces involved in the peace process will abide by the ceasefire agreement,” she stressed.

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