Military accused of using mosques as campsBy Jeoffrey Maitem
Philippine Daily Inquirer
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – A human rights group on Friday accused the military of turning some mosques in Maguindanao into temporary camps at the height of the clashes with Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
But Colonel Prudencio Asto, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division, denied the allegation saying it was the BIFF fighters who occupied the mosques.
Bai Ali Indayla, secretary general of Kawagib (Rights), said her organization had gathered enough evidence and witnesses to support the filing of charges against the military before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
She said under UN war conventions, places of worship should always be spared in times of conflict.
Indayla said that according to witnesses’ accounts, soldiers occupied mosques in Guindulungan and Datu Unsay towns as they launched operations against BIFF members responsible for the Aug. 5 attacks in Maguindanao. Soldiers also occupied civilian houses during the operations, Indayla said.
“The encampment by the military in the houses and mosques was non-adherence to international laws,” she said.
But Asto denied the claim.
“It’s not true. Our troops know their limit…that’s a violation of international law. The ones who occupied the mosques were the enemies. Our men weren’t able to fire their weapons at some BIFF forces because they hid in the mosques,” Asto said.
As this developed, Asto said the bullet that killed a four-year-old Asnaira Usman inside an evacuation camp in Datu Unsay on Tuesday had been fired by a BIFF sniper.
He said two days later, BIFF snipers in Pikit, North Cotabato, also killed Anwar Langalin on suspicion he was a military agent.
BIFF forces continued to harass civilians outside of Maguindanao, another military officer reported.
Lt. Col Adolfo Espuelas Jr., commanding officer of the 73rd Infantry Battalion, said BIFF forces have occupied four villages in Maitum, Sarangani, and driven away 200 families to evacuation centers.
Espuelas said the military could not easily drive away the rebels because they also brought with them their families and were using them as human shields.
“They resort to using their own family members as shield whenever they are under attack. So, our soldier can’t do anything except to stay put,” he said. With a report from Aquiles Zonio, Inquirer Mindanao