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Headlines - August 18,2008

Death toll in MILF attacks in Lanao, Sarangani hits 28

08/18/2008 | 04:43 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The death toll in the attacks staged by suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the southern provinces of Lanao del Norte and Sarangani has reached 28, officials said Monday.

Brig. Gen. Hilario Atendido, commander of Task Force Tabak, said most of the casualties were from the towns of Lanao del Norte attacked by the rebels - 23 civilians and three government soldiers.

In addition, two government troops were also wounded.

Sarangani Governor Miguel Rene Dominguez earlier said two civilians were killed when MILF forces attacked the town of Maasim before dawn Monday.

"They (civilians) were killed when they (rebels) were withdrawing. They used them as human shields. The rebels killed them on their way out. They were killed as if like chicken. That is the report given to us by the civilians," Atendido said.

Atendido said the military in the province will remain vigilant for another atrocities the rebels may launch. "We are still on alert for any possible return of the MILF...They withdrew (from Kolambugan) as the troops were entering the town."

At the National Police headquarters at Camp Crame, the initial list showed 13 fatalities in Lanao del Norte and two in Sarangani province. Three people were also reportedly wounded.

Marine Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said government troops would make sure that civilians would not be caught in the crossfire as pursuit operations are conducted.

"We will continue to perform our mandate as protector of the Filipino people against lawless elements. Your AFP shall always be at the forefront of combating all forms of violence in order to uphold peace and security in the area and bring to justice the people responsible for these despicable acts," Allaga said.

The casualty figures started to rise Monday, a day after suspected MILF troops ambushed a military convoy near the boundary of Mulondo and Buadiposo-Buntong towns in Lanao del Sur which killed seven and wounded 11 others.

The MILF followed this up Monday morning with simultaneous attacks against the towns of the Kolambugan and Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte and the town of Maasim in Sarangani.

The attacks were apparently in retaliation for the stalled signing of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between government and the MILF negotiators.

In Manila, the National Disaster Coordinating Council said that the MILF also bombed and toppled three transmission towers of the National Transmission Corp or Transco which may cause the tripping of power supply in Mindanao.

At the same time, it said that at least 9,350 were displaced by the fighting.

The NDCC, in its 3 p.m. report, also said that the MILF ransacked the pharmacy and town hall of Maasim in Sarangani province, and killed at least two civilians.

NDCC said that in Lapayan village in Kauswagan in Lanao del Sur, the MILF troops burned an undetermined number of houses and that portions of the highway from Iligan to Ozamiz City and Kapatagan remained impassable.

Most of those who have evacuated were taken to evacuation centers in Ozamiz City.- GMANews.TV

Iligan City placed under state of calamity - TV report

08/18/2008 | 11:11 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Iligan City in Lanao del Norte province has been placed under state of calamity as thousands of residents flee their homes for fear that their town will be the next to be attacked by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels.

In his report in QTV’s News on Q, Ivan Mayrina said the two evacuation centers in the city are currently swamped with families who had fled their homes. He said many of the evacuees are infants and children.

This developed hours after MILF forces under Commander Bravo attacked Kolambugan town also in Lanao del Norte where they held many civilians hostages for several hours.

The local government had also implemented starting Monday a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which the report said will be observed every day until the situation in the city returns to normal.

Mayor Lawrence Cruz believes the threat of attack has a lot to do with his strong opposition to the inclusion of eight of the city’s villages in the proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) under the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain between the government and the MILF.

The television report said that military presence in the city was very noticeable due to reports that the threat might come from within and not from outside city limits.

Residents however were warned against arming themselves and taking security matters in their own hands. - GMANews.TV

Puno to MILF: Are we talking to the right guys?

08/18/2008 | 11:02 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Following the attacks by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on some Mindanao provinces, the government hinted Monday night it is having second thoughts about the ongoing peace talks with the rebel group.

Interior secretary Ronaldo Puno, emerging from a meeting of the National Security Council, said the MILF has shown bad faith in their peace efforts in past weeks.

"Are we talking to the correct people? We have been bending over backwards to show good faith (in the peace negotiations with the MILF) but these past weeks, (the MILF has shown) the exact opposite," Puno said in a statement posted on the Office of the Press Secretary website Monday night.

He admitted the government is now "entertaining doubts" and feels that "there has been a breach in the peace/ceasefire agreement."

For his part, defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. reminded the MILF it is incumbent on them "not to coddle members who have been sowing terror in Mindanao."

Puno said the MILF's attacks in Lanao del Norte are an "affront to the national government."

He said the treacherous MILF attacks show an "absence of good faith" on the part of the MILF.

But he said government remains "hopeful" that there are still enough elements in the MILF who are interested in a peaceful settlement of the Mindanao conflict.

Still, he admitted the events that took place in Mindanao in the past 24 hours were "not very encouraging."

For their part, press secretary Jesus Dureza and Teodoro said the recent attacks by MILF members led by Umbra Kato in North Cotabato last week, and the men of a Commander Bravo in Lanao del Norte and Saranggani had "absolutely no justification."

"Those attacks were pure criminal acts without any justification," Dureza and Teodoro said.

Teodoro added it was "obvious that terrorism was involved" in the MILF s simultaneous attacks in Lanao del Norte and Saranggani province this morning.

But he assured there are enough government forces on the ground to prevent a repeat of Monday's MILF rampage. The AFP is ready to augment forces in Mindanao if needed, he said.

"When they (MILF) attacked, they took themselves out of the ambit of the ceasefire agreement," Dureza added. - GMANews.TV

Philippine troops flush out Moro rebels

08/18/2008 | 10:42 PM
MANILA, Philippines - Bands of Moro rebels stormed into several towns Monday in a bloody daylong rampage that killed at least 26 people and displaced 7,000, triggering a swift military response — and doubts if the Philippine guerrilla movement is in control of its fighters.

About 200-500 Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels cut off a main highway in the troubled south and raided up to five coastal towns in Lanao del Norte province early Monday, burning houses and shooting or hacking to death civilians and taking others captive. Many residents scampered for safety, jumping into small boats to escape.

Troops reacted quickly and flushed out the rebels with tanks and helicopter gunships under orders from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who issued a televised condemnation of the raids, calling them "sneaky and treacherous."

The retreating rebels took several people hostage in Kolambugan town as human shields, said Brig. Gen. Antonio Supnet, head of an army brigade that drove away the rebels.

Officials said 23 civilians were killed in Kauswagan and in neighboring Kolambugan, including villagers who were taken hostage, a group of farmers and two bus passengers hit by rebel gunfire.

An ambush killed at least three troops, including a lieutenant colonel, the highest-ranking officer to die in combat in three years, army commanders said.

Supnet said more than 20 houses were burned in Kauswagan alone and hundreds of displaced villagers were streaming into evacuation centers in nearby Iligan.

William Sechico, 14, from Kolambugan, said he and his five siblings and parents were asleep when their house came under fire.

"My father died," he said. "We hid in the bushes at the back of our house until 1 p.m. today."

TV footage showed mayhem in one smoldering village as residents ran for cover, jumping over the fences of their roadside houses. Burned-out vehicles littered the street.

Michael Enat, manager of Cosmopolitan funeral homes in Iligan, said an army truck brought the bodies of nine civilians from Kauswagan who had been shot and hacked. At least 7,000 villagers fled their homes, police said.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said the attack was carried out by a key commander, Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Bravo, without the knowledge of the group's leadership.

Kabalu said the rebels were frustrated over the slow progress in peace talks but added their actions were "illegal and they were ordered by (rebel) leaders to vacate the areas they attacked."

The escalation of fighting on Mindanao island came amid uncertainty over the fragile peace process after the Supreme Court — acting on a petition filed by politicians wary of losing land and power — blocked a preliminary agreement with the rebels calling for an expanded Muslim autonomous region.

The agreement, which was supposed to be signed this month, calls for more than 700 new villages to be added to an existing autonomous region, subject to approval in a plebiscite next year.

Since the court action, a military offensive was launched in a nearby province to dislodge the rebels from several villages they occupied last month. On Sunday, rebel forces attacked a four-vehicle army convoy, killing four soldiers and four militiamen, the military said. Kabalu confirmed the attack but said he was not sure what triggered it.

Several homemade bombs were defused last week, and three explosions Sunday rocked hotels in Iligan, wounding three people.

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the government sympathized with rebel leaders who cannot control their "renegade elements." But "renegade or otherwise, it amounts to an affront to our national government."

He said even the rebel leadership "agrees with us that these renegade groups are breaking the law, and we must make every effort to make sure that these things do not succeed."

But he warned that "if it continues this way, I think there will have to be a need to seriously take a look at the whole situation. Are we talking to the correct people?" - AP

Govt hints of having second thoughts in MILF talks after attacks

08/18/2008 | 10:28 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Cabinet officials on Monday night hinted that the government is having second thoughts in talking peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after it attacked the provinces of North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte.

“We have been bending over backwards to show good faith (in the peace negotiations with the MILF) but these past weeks, (the MILF has shown) the exact opposite,” said Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno Monday night.

"They (MILF) have harmed civilians, burned houses of civilians and taken over civilian … I think that cannot be taken lightly," he added.

Puno however said the government remains "hopeful" that there are still enough elements in the MILF who are interested in peace even if the events in Mindanao in the past 24 hours had been “disheartening.”

"At this point although we are alarmed and disheartened by this aggression that’s been shown by some elements of the MILF we are still hopeful that there are some constructive who are still desirous of the peace process," he said.

The DILG chief made the statement in a press briefing in Malacañang following an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) presided by President Arroyo.

Puno admitted the government is now "entertaining doubts" and feels that "there has been a breach in the peace/ceasefire agreement" with the MILF. He described MILF's attack in Lanao del Norte as an "affront to the national government."

For his part, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro said the government will not hesitate to “sift out” those who are no longer interested in talking peace with the government.

“The value of dialogue is always there, but the parameters of dialogue should change to reflect the conditions on the ground. Sift out those who do not want it,” Teodoro said as he reminded the secessionist group that it is incumbent on them "not to coddle members who have been sowing terror in Mindanao."

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the recent attacks by MILF in North Cotabato last week and in Lanao del Norte and Sarangani Monday “were pure criminal acts without any justification." - with Aie Balagtas See, GMANews.TV

Sun.Star: Troops in Mindanao remain on 'combat alert'

08/18/2008 | 10:16 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Police and military forces in Mindanao remain on "combat alert" to avoid a repeat of the series of attacks by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces, including the takeover of the Kolambugan Municipal Hall in Lanao del Norte Province.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr said pursuit operations are ongoing and there is no need to augment the current police and military forces.

Presidential political adviser and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said the government has successfully retaken the Kolambugan Municipal Hall, but advised the people, especially from the affected areas, to exercise caution.

Puno also advised the people against the use of arms, assuring that government forces are there to defend them as instructed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He added that charges are now being readied against Commander Bravo for leading the attack in Lanao del Norte, similar to cases set to be filed against Commander Umbra Kato after his men forcibly took over several barangays in North Cotabato Province last week.

He said once warrants of arrest for the two MILF leaders are issued, they would seek the help of the MILF central committee to serve them.

Teodoro, who said the North Cotabato and Lanao del Norte incidents are biggest ceasefire violations since he assumed the defense portfolio last year, said authorities are also looking at possible cohorts of the two Moro rebels especially Bravo.

He also branded the attack in three towns in Lanao del Norte as a terrorist act which is unjustified and only intended to sow terror. - Sun.Star

Does the government need more reasons? More innocent civilians killed or displaced? More houses burned? More devastation? More atrocities committed before declaring an All Out War against the MILF?

Everything that happened since last week are already proof enough that the MILF are not sincere in peace..They are just using the cease fire as a way to get the military caught off guard. This has happened since last week, the military has not learned from the lessons of last week's conflict in North Cotabato. And now in Lanao del sur.

I think it is time to really eradicate the MILF..These so called moro fighters are merely hoodlums..thieves..killers..


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