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Officers behind costly, botched mission vs MILF to face court martial

MANILA, Phiippines - The Philippine military said Sunday it would put four senior special forces officers on trial over a botched mission against Muslim insurgents that left 19 commandos dead and almost scuppered peace talks.

Military prosecutors found sufficient evidence to warrant the court martial proceedings against a colonel and three lieutenant colonels, the armed forces said in a statement.

"The next step is the arraignment of the accused military personnel in the said case," the military said in a statement, without giving a date.

The four officers are accused of organising a flawed special forces mission to arrest a top Muslim militant in the southern island of Mindanao in October last year.

Investigations by army prosecutors found that half the 41 commandos involved in the operation were unprepared and had been in the area for an unrelated training programme.

The soldiers entered thick jungle terrain controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), triggering heavy fighting that killed 19 soldiers and several rebels.

The attack triggered bloody clashes that displaced 20,000 families in the south and led to the near-collapse of peace talks between the government and the MILF, which has been waging a rebellion since the 1970s.

The rebels accused the military of violating an earlier agreement to stay away from its known camps.

It was later discovered that the military's top general in the region was not told of the operation.

Both sides have since returned to the negotiating table.



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