2 rebels killed in Maguindanao clashBy Frances Mangosing
MANILA, Philippines – Heavily armed men simultaneously attacked the military outposts belonging to the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in Maguindanao Province, sparking clashes that killed at least two rebels.
An unspecified number of armed fighters from Ameril Ombra Kato’s Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement launched simultaneous attacks on the Army detachments located in three towns of Maguindanao including Datu Unsay, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Ampatuan at about 11:40 p.m., the Philippine Army said.
Sporadic clashes were continuing Monday, the Army added.
Troop reinforcements were sent to enhance the defenses of the small outposts which are tasked to keep the peace in the area, it added.
The rebels also harassed soldiers manning Salman Detachment in Ampatuan town at 6:15 a.m.
The wounded soldier was identified as Corporal Romel Mantos of the 603rd Brigade.
Reports also said that 11 municipalities were out of electricity after the rebels reportedly cut down electric poles with chainsaws.
“We really believe that these are members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters led by Datu Ameril Umbra Kato and the MILF has nothing to do with this skirmish,” Army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc said over radio.
He said it was the MILF which reported the presence of armed men in the area and it deployed blocking force in Tauran village to stop the BIFF group.
Because of the attacks the military was prompted to order troops to be on “active defense posture mode,” added Cabunoc.
“We will also punish those who committed these atrocities. We will also make them suffer the consequences at they started this and we know what punishment we should give to those responsible,” he said.
“We will take care of ourselves, we will take care of the community, the people around…,” he said.
An Associated Press report said that at the height of the attacks, villagers fled from their homes and 11 of Maguindanao’s 36 towns lost power. Military officials suspect the gunmen may have destroyed power lines.
The 200-strong rebel group, led by commander Ameril Umbra Kato, broke off last year from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has engaged the government in ongoing peace talks being brokered by Malaysia. Kato’s group has opposed the yearslong negotiations.
Kato had vowed to continue fighting for an independent homeland for minority Muslims in the south of this predominantly Roman Catholic nation. He had a stroke in November, plunging his group to uncertainty.
Abu Misri Mammah, a spokesman for Kato’s group, said the rebels were avenging the death of a fellow militant who was killed when Army troops advanced on a guerrilla stronghold in Maguindanao last month.
“What we launched were hit and run harassments,” he told a local radio station, adding that his group has no plan to carry out further attacks.
Soldiers and police were pursuing the fleeing gunmen Monday.
The 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front ordered its rebels to remain in their encampments as government forces battled the breakaway guerrillas. Spokesman Von Al Haq said his group did not want to be accidentally drawn into the fighting.
The presidential adviser on the peace talks, Teresita Deles, said the attacks by Kato’s forces were meant to derail the peace talks, but she assured the public the violence would not affect the negotiations.
The latest fighting is among the worst since 2008, when peace talks bogged down and ignited clashes between Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces and government troops in Maguindanao and outlying provinces. That fighting killed hundreds and displaced 750,000 people before both sides agreed to a cease-fire.
Despite the clashes, the military said it will not affect the ongoing peace talks.
“Kato’s group is not part of the MILF and the government is in constant coordination with the MILF and a strong line of communication exists,” spokesman Colonel Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos Jr. said in a statement.
He added there was no armed confrontation between government troops and the MILF since January of this year, as a result of continuous communication with the MILF.
“However, our troops will continue to take necessary precautionary measures to protect our people as well as government and private vital installations and facilities against such armed attacks,” Burgos said.