Monday, October 24, 2011

Eight killed in new Philippine rebel violence

Suspected Muslim rebels shot dead three soldiers and five rubber plantation workers Sunday in the latest bout of violence that has killed dozens in the southern Philippines in days.

The week's killings have put extreme pressure on President Benigno Aquino to review the faltering peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), with some leading lawmakers calling for an all-out war.

MILF guerrillas ambushed the troops while they were on their way to facilitate the surrender of two militants in a remote area on Mindanao island, army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc said.

"The initial report is that three were killed and three were wounded," Cabunoc said.

The ambush came just hours after a large group of armed men also believed to be MILF fighters killed five plantation workers and injured eight on Basilan, an island province that is also part of Mindanao.

Sunday's casualties brought the number of deaths blamed on the MILF to 35 since last week, in what is the deadliest eruption of violence involving the separatist group in recent years.

No group claimed responsibility for Sunday's attacks, but the military said the MILF were known to operate in the areas where they happened.

The fresh assaults could have been staged by the MILF to ease military pressure against their comrades being hunted down elsewhere in the restive southern region, Cabunoc said.

"It is possible these might be diversions, that they might be getting desperate," he added.

Reports from military intelligence operatives indicated the 40 gunmen who ambushed the plantation workers were members of a MILF unit led by a rebel called Hassan Asnawi, the army said.

The gunmen escaped into the jungle after a pro-government militia escorting the workers fought back, it said.

MILF fighters killed 19 special forces who allegedly strayed into a rebel camp also in Basilan on Wednesday, in violation of a ceasefire.

The military however said the soldiers were after a rogue MILF commander named Dan Laksaw Asnawi when they were ambushed.

That Asnawi in 2007 allegedly joined forces with members of the smaller Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf rebel group in a major clash with marines in 2007 in which 14 troopers were killed and beheaded.

He was later jailed but escaped from a Basilan jail in 2009.

It was not clear whether the two Asnawis were related or whether Sunday's ambush was linked to last week's attacks.

Four soldiers and four policemen were also slain Thursday in separate clashes in Zamboanga Sibugay province, also on Mindanao, the mainly Catholic country's southern third where the MILF has waged a rebellion since the 1970s.

President Aquino's peace negotiator with the MILF, Marvic Leonen, has said a thorough investigation into the clashes was being undertaken and warned that the attacks would weigh heavily on the talks.

The MILF rebellion has claimed about 150,000 lives, with most of the deaths coming in the 1970s when an all-out war raged.

The government and the rebels signed a truce in 2003 to pave the way for the negotiations, but the ceasefire is often marred by clashes, and the negotiations are currently in a stalemate.

The new clashes were the heaviest since 2008, when MILF commanders launched raids across mostly Christian areas in Mindanao that left about 400 people dead.

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AFP News

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