• Philippine military shells MILF bases despite truce deal

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    The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group negotiating peace with the government has accused the military on Tuesday of attacking its forces in the southern province of Basilan.

    Von Al Haq, a rebel spokesman, said troops fired cannons on MILF positions in the village of Ulitan in Ungkaya Pukan town. He said troops, under Colonel Carlito Galvez, attacked several rebel bases sparking a firefight.

    He said it was not the first time that Galvez, commander of army forces in Basilan province, targeted the MILF which has signed a cease-fire agreement with the Aquino government to allow peaceful negotiations aimed at ending decades of bloody fighting in the southern Philippines.

    “The military attacked our forces again and fighting erupted because of the military assault,” Al Haq said.

    It was not immediately known if there were casualties in the fighting, but the army said the military operation targeted the Abu Sayyaf, a small, but the most notorious rebel group blamed for the spate of terrorism and kidnappings for ransom in the troubled province.

    Just on Monday, the army said troops clashed with Abu Sayyaf rebels headed by Juhair Aliman in Basilan and killed two fighters, but two soldiers were also slain in the violence. It said the operation was launched to freer the circumferential road from lawless elements.

    But Al Haq said the military operation was launched against the MILF in the guise of pursuing Abu Sayyaf rebels. “As in the past cases, military operations were directed at the MILF in the guise of running after the Abu Sayyaf. We have bases in Basilan and these bases are protected by the cease-fire agreement, but spoilers of peace are targeting us. The military violated the cease-fire accord,” he said.

    The MILF said military shelling also hit civilian communities and villagers have fled to safer areas.

    Abbas Salung, chairman of the MILF Cease-fire Committee based in Basilan province, said he sought an immediate ceasefire with the military, but “it would seem the Colonel Galvez was recalcitrant.”

    “We could not understand why the attack was irresponsibly conducted against our forces and the shelling not being stopped. The government forces assaulted our troops and bombarded civilian communities. These are utter violations of the government and MILF ceasefire accord and agreement on the civilian protection, human rights and international humanitarian laws by Philippine Army troops,” Salung said.

    He said Galvez has undermined the cease-fire accord. “This is not the first time that Colonel Galvez undermined the cease-fire accord and the primacy of the peace process between the government and MILF,” Salung said.

    The MILF said it will file a protest with the government cease-fire body against Galvez. AL JACINTO

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