Army denies links with armed groups

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DAVAO CITY: Army officials have denied links with militias accused as behind the series of deadly attacks on tribesmen in the southern Philippines and accused leftist organizations of spreading black propaganda against government forces.

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Captain Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said security forces have been protecting indigenous tribes against attacks by the communist rebel group New People’s Army (NPA) in the region.

“We will go after lawless groups that threaten the peace of all communities and not only the indigenous tribes and its people,” he told The Manila Times.

Caber said they also regularly conduct peace forum in different areas and hold talks with feuding or warring tribal groups. He said many of the feuds stem from land conflicts.

He said human rights group Karapatan and other similar organizations closely linked with communist rebels have been spreading propaganda to discredit the peace and development efforts of the military in the region.

“Our soldiers are working hard in many areas in Mindanao in an effort to help the government promote peace and development in the region, and many of our brave men had shed their lives for peace so that others may live in harmony without fear in their heart,” Caber said.

Just recently, the non-governmental organization Save Our Schools (SOS) said that a teenager – Alibando Tingkas – was killed by militias belonging to Alamara in Palma Gil village in Davao del Norte’s Talaingod town. Two of Tingkas’ companion managed to escape and reported the attack to tribal leaders.

SOS, which condemned the killing, said the 15-year old Tingkas, a grade three pupil of Salugpongan Elementary School, was heading home when the gunman attacked him. It said the teener is the 29th child victim of extrajudicial killing in the region. It said a tribal leader, Datu Manliro Landahay, a council member of Salugpongan Lumad Organization in Talaingod was also killed by Alamara in November last year.

“We are enraged and saddened by this incident. The paramilitary group and their military cohorts will not stop from attacking and even killing lumads in the name of their counter-insurgency operations, even children are not spared anymore” said Rius Valle, spokesperson of the SOS Network in Southern Mindanao.

He said witnesses to the attack tagged the Alamara as behind the killing. The body of Tingkas was recovered by villagers, according to Valle, who fears the militias would launch more attacks against indigenous people who are not supporting the government’s anti-insurgency operations in the South.

Valle said teachers of Salug-pongan Elementary School are also receiving death threats after militias accused them as members of the NPA.

He said militias in September last year also brutally killed a school principal and two tribal leaders in Lianga town in Surigao del Sur province, and also the forcible closure and demolition of a Fr. Fausto Tentorio Memorial School in Bukidnon’s Kitaotao town on suspicion they were used as front of the communist rebel group.

But Caber said tribal leaders strongly denied the existence of Alamara in the area. He said the teenager was killed in crossfire between warring tribal groups.

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