MILF claims Military violated truce

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said the military violated the ceasefire agreement between the government and the rebel group when soldiers attacked MILF forces last week in Basilan that led to the death of three fighters.

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The MILF said one civilian, Julamri Bapakil, was also killed and four others were wounded – Adzmar Abdurahim, 14; Hudri Julamri, 16; and Basri Pamasad, 17; and Jihad Abdurajim, 17 – during the military assault in the towns of Ungkaya Pukan and Tipo-Tipo.

The MILF identified its slain members as Basir Kerok, Soy Tarung and Mohammad Soh.

Two other fighters, Totong Ausal and Muthim Imam, were wounded in the fighting. The military’s Western Mindanao Command said it launched the operation on April 11 against the Abu Sayyaf which is being blamed for the spate of terrorism and ransom kidnappings in Basilan and other parts of western Mindanao. The clashes also killed two soldiers and wounded 29 more.

Marine Captain Maria Rowena Muyuela, spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said the military assault targeted Abu Sayyaf leaders Puruji Indama and Nurhassan Jamiri, who have been harassing workers at a government road project there.

She said the military operation was coordinated with the MILF in Basilan, one of five provinces comprising the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which is known as a stronghold of the rebel group.

“The launching of the combat operation has been coordinated with the AHJAG, CCCH and the PNP in pursuit of the lawless elements, primarily the Abu Sayyaf, which is believed to be responsible in several extortion and kidnapping cases here in the Mindanao area,” Myuela said.

AHJAG refers to the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group and the CCCH is the abbreviation for the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities which ensures the mechanism of the ceasefire agreement is not violated.

But the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group which recently signed a peace deal with Manila, denied the military report, saying the assault was launched without any coordination and this sparked fierce gun battle between its forces and government troops after security forces encroached into its territories.

“The movement of the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) soldiers was not in any way coordinated with CCCH neither the military informed the AHJAG. The encounter could have been avoided had the military coordinated with the GPH-MILF CCCH and the International Monitoring Team,” the MILF said.

It said the military assault in the village of Kurellem lasted only two hours, but the exchange of gunfire between the MILF forces and government troops took several hours.

“Heavy damage was also reported on a school building, madrasah, mosque and agricultural crops due to relentless artillery shelling and helicopter machinegun fire,” the MILF said.

AFP chief Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista, who was in Zamboanga City recently, said they have reports that MILF rebels fought alongside Abu Sayyaf militants in Basilan.

Bautista said some MILF members who have relatives with the Abu Sayyaf were involved in the fighting.

Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said they are verifying reports that as many as 32 rebels were killed or wounded.

Despite the massive military assault, the militants managed to slip out of Basilan. Some 200 soldiers under the command of Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez took part in the offensive.

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