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MILF kills more soldiers in Zamboanga

MANILA, Philippines - MANILA, Philippines - As calls for the suspension of peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) mount, separate ambuscades took place in Zamboanga Sibugay province last night, leaving four soldiers and three policemen dead.

Philippine Army spokesman Col. Antonio Parlade and the local police said that MILF fighters are most likely involved in the latest attacks.

In an interview on ABS-CBN News, Parlade said that the attacks were most likely carried by the MILF because "there are no other lawless elements in the area."

MILF spokesman Von Al Haq, meanwhile, confirmed the military's suspicion. He said that the attacks were carried out as retaliation to the military's continuous mortar shelling of the separatist group's position in the province.

"It's only retaliation. That's part of war. Soldiers have been indiscriminately pounding our position and civilian areas in Bayao town," said Al Haq.

He added that members of the MILF's 114th Base Command carried out the attacks. The military believes that the same group carried out the attack in Sitio Bakisung, Baramgay Cambug in Al-Barka town, Basilan province last Tuesday, where 19 soldiers were killed.

The MILF had claimed that six of its fighters were killed in the Basilan clash. It also claimed that 22 firearms from the soldiers were seized by their fighters during the clash.

Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF's peace panel, said that the rebels involved in the attack in Zamboanga Sibugay province were only defending themselves from the government's offensive operations.

"There were the ones who initiated the attack, their ground forces moved to our position, of the Moro communities where our forces are positioned," Iqbal said.

Chief Superintendent Elpidio de Asis, regional police director, said that the first ambush happened in Barangay Gulayon, Alicia town around 7:21 p.m. He said that based on a report the local police, four members of the Army's 102nd Infantry Brigade were killed and six more were wounded in the ambush.

One of the slain soldiers was earlier reported missing by the local police.

An Army truck carrying soldiers and drums of gasoline was also ambushed by suspected Moro rebels in Ipil town an hour later, leaving one soldier injured.

At around 11:15 p.m., an undetermined number of Moro rebels ambushed a joint team of the police and the military, who were on patrol in Barangay Simbol, Kabasalan town. Three local policemen, including the town police's deputy chief, were killed while another policeman and an Army soldier were wounded.

The regional police also reported a bomb explosion in a vacant lot near the Philippine Ports Authority wharf area around 8:00 p.m. Police were still investigating if the explosion was related to the three MILF attacks.

Suspension of talks

Iqbal, meanwhile, said that the military is "feeding the wrong information" to the public regarding the incident in Zamboanga Sibugay. He claimed that the MILF is "the one being attacked."

He said that with the series of clashes between the Moro rebels and the military "the trust and confidence on the negotiators have been greatly affected."

Iqbal said that they have communicated with the International Monitoring Team to ask the mediating body to investigate the incident.

The attacks came three days after the killing of 19 Army special forces members in Al-Barka town.

The MILF leadership claims that their fighters engaged the soldiers in a firefight because they stepped in their designated territory.

The military, however, claimed that the troops were at least four kilometers away from the MILF's area of temporary stay, a designated area for the MILF to stay to avoid a misencounter with troops operating against lawless elements in Mindanao.

Lawmakers are also calling on President Benigno Aquino III to order a suspension of the peace negotiations with the MILF because of the incident.

Parlade had said that the suspension of talks with the MILF will allow the military to carry out pursuit operations against those who carried out the attack in Basilan.

Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that the government should temporarily suspend the talks and clarify several issues with the MILF before returning to the negotiating table next month.

"My proposal is for the suspension [of peace talks] because there is a need for us to clarify certain terms of reference," Biazon said.

He said the government should ask the MILF about its members' relations with Abu Sayyaf and other terrorist groups in Mindanao, seek a clarification on the controlled areas of the MILF and what role should the rebel group play if incidents similar to the Basilan clash will happen again.

Biazon said he also wants the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to make public the steps made by the government to act on protests by the military regarding past incidents of alleged misencounter with the MILF.

"This is not an isolated case... Of what use is this protest if this things cannot be prevented. It happened again," the congressman said, referring to the beheading of 14 Marines in Al-Barka town in 2007.

Surrender Moro rebels

In a separate television interview, peace panel chief Marvic Leonen said that the government is now seriously assessing how the MILF is complying with the existing ceasefire agreement.

Leonen said that if ever there is "lack of sincerity of one side, we will move in another direction," that is to leave the peace panel's main duty of finding "lasting, peaceful, political solution" to the peace and order problem in Mindanao.

During the interview, Leonen said he agrees to proposals that the MILF should surrender its fighters involved in Tuesday's attack against the government soldiers.

He said that the Philippine Army will come up with the names of those who may be involved in the attack. The list will be presented to the MILF before the negotiating table and the government panel will ask from the separatist group to surrender the suspects, he added.

President Arroyo has dismissed calls for an all-out war against the MILF. He said that Filipinos should already learn from the past that “nobody gets to benefit in a war.”

He also declined to blame the whole MILF leadership for the attack. He said there is a need for a full investigation of the incident before the government “could take the appropriate course of direction.”

“We should not jump into conclusions that could be irresponsible,” Aquino stressed. – Angelo L. Gutierrez, Xinhua

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By Jun Pasaylo and Dennis Carcamo The Philippine Star Updated October 21, 2011 10:47 AM

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