Still, ‘peace spoilers’ remain defiant, vow to resist accord
President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday vowed to crush forces opposed to a deal at ending a decades-long Muslim separatist insurgency, which he tagged as ‘peace spoilers,’ as the military continued its offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters - a breakaway group that has been disowned by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The BIFF, however, remained defiant and vowed that their forces would not retreat, even as the Nur Misuari-faction of the Moro National Liberation Front warned of a ‘prolonged’ war if the military continues to attack their camps.
BIFF made its stand through spokesman Abu Misri Mama, who also denied military reports that his group has suffered casualties.
MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza, for his part, said that “if they (government) do not stop the military offensives, then we will have war.”
Cerveza added that the attack on MNLF territories ‘is tantamount to declaring war against the MNLF’ even as he claimed that at least a thousand MILF members have defected into their ranks.
Government troops started ‘pro-active’ assault against the BIFF on Sunday, a day after the government and the MILF signed the last of the four annexes that would pave the way for the creation of a Bangsamoro entity in Muslim Mindanao.
“The AFP, in its role to protect our people, is going on this operation to prevent these lawless activities from inflicting harm on our populace and to seriously degrade their abilities to again act as spoilers,” Aquino said.
Meanwhile, the military claimed that the clashes had so far resulted in the death of 40 BIFF members, up from last Tuesday’s 17.
But in a late report, Moro National Liberation Front-Nur Misuari faction spokesman Absalom Cerveza claimed that six government soldiers were killed in the clashes in Bgy. Bakat in Datu Piang.
6th Infantry Battalion spokesman Col. Dick Hermoso said soldiers had recovered the bodies of 37 of the 40 BIFF members who had been killed in three days of fighting in and around remote southern farming villages.
One soldier was also killed and seven others wounded, Hermoso said, adding that BIFF resistance has started to fade against an all-out assault by 1,500 soldiers.
Hermoso said that among those who died in the clashes were “child soldiers.”
He said they are seeking the help of the Commission on Human Rights and other local and international organizations promoting the rights and welfare of children to help investigate the BIFF for using “child soldiers.”
“These ‘child soldiers’ were from 14 to 17 of age. Because of this, we condemn to the highest level the BIFF for using children in forwarding their criminal acts,” he said.
Hermoso said the military has counted at least 12 child soldiers killed in the series of clashes buried in fresh graves, but did not touch them in deference to Muslim tradition.
Since Monday, Hermoso said there was no let up in the military’s shelling using 105mm Howitzer cannons against enemy positions in Barangay Ganta, Sharif Saidona Mustapha and Barangay Damablas, Datu Piang, both in Maguindanao, where most of the bodies of the fatalities were recovered.
He said the BIFF had also sent out small teams to do bombings in some selected towns to divert the attention of the military and police.
“They (rebels) set off improvised explosive devices and directed mortar fire on our troops. But they have splintered into smaller groups and our troops are now clearing these areas,” Hermoso said.
Three civilians were also hurt in the violence, including two from a Tuesday bomb blast near a marketplace that the military said was the handiwork of the BIFF.
Hermoso said the operation against the BIFF was properly coordinated with the MILF.
He said that the military’s Coordinating Council on Cessation of Hostilities has asked its counterpart, the CCCH-MILF, to extend for another 72 hours starting 7 a.m. Wednesday to continue the offensives against BIFF forces in the Regente Mountain.
“Both mechanisms have already agreed to that and all MILF forces in the area were notified about the extension. Rest assured our troops will not enter into MILF areas,” Hermoso said.
He said the BIFF lair is formerly part of the MILF’s area which was now being used by the BIFF as main camp.
Hermoso said he expects the fighting to be over in about three days, although he made no mention of the military’s initially stated goals of capturing the BIFF’s top leaders.
The BIFF, a breakaway group from the MILF, is headed by Ameril Umbra Kato, who carries a P10 million bounty on his head for attacking several parts of Mindanao after the non-signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain in 2009.
But despite Aquino’s tough talk, presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said there might be a mechanism available to Kato’s group if it would seek amnesty through the normalization annex that the government signed with the MILF.
“If they express willingness, there might be some mechanism that can be done,” Deles said in a separate interview.
“But they have to be the ones to reach out. Anytime that there will be changes, then we will evaluate the situation,” she added.
Cerveza, however, warned of a ‘prolonged’ war after it accused the military of attacking its camps in Maguindanao.
He said the military attacked their camps in Bgy. Bakat in Datu Piang and in Saydona Mustapha, both in Maguindanao.
He said MNLF forces engaged government troops in a fierce gunbattle in two MNLF camps in Barangay Bakat, Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona Mustpha in Maguindanao.
He said the military operation against the MNLF and the BIFF is being coordinated with some MILF members loyal to MILF Vice Chair Gadzali Jaafar.
Cerveza, however, belittled the attempt by the MILF and the military to decimate the MNLF’s ranks, saying that the MNLF is fully prepared for a ‘prolonged’ war in Mindanao.
“Where the guns resides, power originates,” Cerveza said as he rejected calls by Jaafar for an MNLF unification with the MILF.
Cerveza instead called on the MILF to join the MNLF, as he disregarded an earlier MILF proposal for them to join the crafting of the preposition by the MILF to join the crafting of the framework agreement.
“The agreement/framework should comply with the Jakarta accord as the OIC wanted and not the JaKarta accord complying with the MILF framework,” he said.
Cerveza said “the talks will eventually fall with the MILF reverting to their mother unit. “If it happens, the MILF will be diluted.”
MNLF overall Commander Bensaleh Sharifah said the attacks on Saidona Mustapha and in Bakat, Datu Piang could signal a prolonged war, while also denying that the camp at Brgy. Bakat in Datu Piang was captured by government troops.
Hermoso earlier reported that they overran a training camp in Brgy Bakat, where they found a lecture room containing several military paraphernalia and improvised explosives.
Sharifah also claimed that the BIFF captured dozens of army soldiers during a running gunbattle at the tri-boundary of Datu Piang, Sultan sa Barongis and Saidona Mustapha on Tuesday. The soldiers, he said, are currently being detained somewhere in Barangay Reyna Regente, Datu Piang, Maguindanao.
Hermoso denied Sharifah’s claim.
Cerveza said that defectors from the MILF joining the MNLF now number at a thousand and said that he expects more MILF rebels to defect to show their opposition to the signing of the normalization annex.
“The MNLF will continue to embrace the MILF. The MILF has directed all state and local commanders to process their integration,” Cerveza said. With Francisco Tuyay, Florante Solmerin and AFP
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