Thursday, August 7, 2008

MILF told to pull back from area in North Cotabato

This is from Malaya. Barangays are local areas somewhat like counties in the U.S. or townships in Canada. Issues involving the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) aren't solved yet even though it seems as if there is a general agreement and a ceasefire seems to be holding more or less.

MILF told: Pull back in 24 hours or else.14 barangays occupied by 800-man rebel band
BY RAYMOND AFRICA
INTERIOR Secretary Ronaldo Puno yesterday gave the Moro Islamic Liberation Front up to 10 a.m. today to vacate areas it has occupied in North Cotabato, on pain of an all-out offensive.
Puno said reports reaching his office showed some 800 MILF members under one Commander Umbrahato of the MILF's 105th Base Command have taken over 14 barangays in five towns since July 1.
Puno clarified that the 24-hour ultimatum was not a declaration of war but a "declaration of the rule of law."
He said the rebels also torched nearly 100 houses, looted farms and stole cattle and other livestock. Their actions forced hundreds of farmers from nearby areas to arm themselves, Puno said.
The MILF said the reports have to be verified. If proven true, the rebels should leave, said Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs.
North Cotabato Vice Gov. Manny Piñol said the MILF has long taken control of at least three communities in his province and had even taken hostage 20 government personnel, seven of them soldiers. He also said MILF attacks have been escalating in the past three weeks.
Puno said the areas occupied by the MILF are not included among at least 700 barangays to be covered by a proposed expanded Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
These are barangays Bago-Libas, Dungguan, Dulaing, and Panganan in Aleosan town; Central Labas, Patindigan, Upper Labas, Lagumbingan, Rangaban, and Baliki in Midsayap; Cabpangi in Pigkawayan; Gayunga in Northern Kabuntulan; and Cabpangi and Gumagun in Libungan.
Puno said 1,596 families composed of 6,547 individuals were displaced in Midsayap, 907 families in Aleosan, 2,611 families in Dualing, and 2,806 in Pagangan.
Puno said the decision to give the MILF an ultimatum followed a meeting Wednesday night with the National Security Council.
He instructed PNP chief Avelino Razon Jr. to deploy three battalions (about 900 men) from the PNP Special Action Force to enforce the law in the area.
The SAF contingent, which will be backed by soldiers, was tasked to disarm some 400 civilian military volunteers who were seen roaming in barangays of Aleosan carrying firearms and have reportedly occupied Muslim communities.
"This contingent of the PNP will lead the clearing of these barangays that have been forcibly occupied (by the MILF) and enforce the rules and the laws on the carrying of firearms by CVOs (civilian volunteer organizations)," he said.
Puno said the government views the incident as "plain lawlessness since there is no justification for taking arms."
"The main purpose of this exercise is to allow them (displaced residents) to return to their residences and resume their normal lives," he said.
NO FORCES
Jaafar said the MILF has no forces to withdraw from the areas. He said MILF men have long been deployed in the areas that were supposedly forcibly occupied by the secessionist group.
"Hindi incursion yun dahil matagal na sila diyan," he said, adding an impartial investigation will clear the matter.
He said if additional MILF men went to those areas, the MILF will withdraw them. "We respect the cease-fire agreement as we have been explaining to everybody."
"Yung MILF na hindi dapat nandun, yun ang aalis kung meron. Pero I doubt kung meron. Ang MILF na nandiyan ay dati nang nandiyan, yung mga local na MILF," he said.
"Ang ibig sabihin kung may pumunta diyan at pumwesto dun sa lugar na hindi nila dati puwesto, kung meron, e dapat i-withdraw yun and we will comply," he added.
Jaafar said the MILF does not see the ultimatum as a form of harassment. He noted Puno's order was for the disarming of the civilian volunteers.
Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesman, said: "We only know of one town where there was fighting last month, so we can't really say our forces forcibly occupied several villages in three to five towns in North Cotabato."
CO-EXISTENCE
North Cotabato Gov. Jesus Sacdalan said the local government had been "co-existing" with the MILF until the arrival of the 105th Base Command under Umbrahato. He said at least three women have died in atrocities committed by Umbrahato's men.
Sacdalan also said they are surprised as to why the MILF has been occupying the communities when the MOA has not been signed.
"Wala pa nga yung BJE, ito na umaarte na itong militant na MILF. Actually yung mga MILF na nandito, yung mga nagha-harass sa amin, nanununog ng bahay, nagnanakaw ng hayop at hina-harvest yung mga palay ng Kristyano at mga local na mga Muslims ay hindi taga rito. Taga kung saan saan galing," he said.
Sacdalan, Piñol and other officials are opposing the inclusion of their province in the expanded ARMM, to be called the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity.
On Monday, the Supreme Court granted their petition for a temporary restraining order on the signing of a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain with the MILF. The signing had been set for the next day in Kuala Lumpur. The MOA, among others, would expand the ARMM through at least 700 barangays in the non-ARMM provinces. Zamboanga City has filed a similar petition with the tribunal.
'NORMAL MOVEMENT'
Warnings about the outbreak of clashes between the MILF and government forces have been aired following the aborted MOA signing. The MILF has said it considers the MOA a done deal.
Piñol said Hermogenes Esperon, presidential adviser on the peace process, was aware of the MILF attacks in two barangays as early as last June.
He said he told Esperon there was a movement by the MILF in Aleosan and Pikit areas before he left for the US late June "and all they told me it's just a normal movement of the MILF, there's nothing to worry about."
"When I was already in the US, I was informed that the group of Ameril Umbrakatu (Umbrahato), parang fundamentalist group ng MILF under Ustadz Jamir Salamat, 'yung kapatid ni Hashim Salamat, attacked Barangay Dungguan in Aleosan and Barangay Baliki, these are neighboring barangays," he told a forum at the Senate.
COTABATO OUTRAGED
Piñol said the attacks even resulted in the hostage-taking of 13 paramilitary personnel and seven soldiers by the MILF.
He said the whole of North Cotabato is outraged that such attacks happened right under the noses of the military.
"Can you imagine allowing the MILF to encircle 20 of your men? Can you imagine what self-respecting government would do this, would allow this?" Piñol said.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano, who was in North Cotabato yesterday, said hostilities could break out if the rebels refuse to leave the communities they have forcibly occupied.
But he expressed optimism the rebels would withdraw in line with the cease-fire agreement forged in 2004 and in deference to the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the MILF.
"The lands owned and tilled by some of our settlers here are forcibly occupied allegedly by MILF elements so because of that the settlers forcibly left. We will enforce the law by evicting this people so that we can bring back the lawful and rightful owners of those lands," he said.

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