Filipino extremists face new foe: fellow rebels

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In this Jan. 3, 2013 file photo, thousands of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members, who signed a peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996, display their weapons during a rally on the volatile island of Jolo in southern Philippines. After years of fighting the government from hidden jungle bases in the southern Philippines, an Al-Qaida-linked militant group is facing a new adversary: fellow Muslim insurgents who can match their guerrilla battle tactics and are eager to regain their lost stature by fighting the widely-condemned terrorist group. The emerging enmity between the Abu Sayyaf militants and the Moro rebels could bolster a decade-long campaign by the Philippines and Western countries to isolate the al-Qaida offshoot Abu Sayyaf, which remains one of the most dangerous groups in Southeast Asia. AP/Nickee Butlangan, File

MANILA, Philippines — After years of fighting the government from hidden jungle bases in the southern Philippines, an Al-Qaida-linked militant group is facing a new adversary: fellow Muslim insurgents who can match their guerrilla battle tactics and are eager to regain their lost stature by fighting the widely condemned terrorist group.

The emerging enmity between the Abu Sayyaf militants and the Moro rebels could bolster a decade-long campaign by the Philippines and Western countries to isolate the al-Qaida offshoot Abu Sayyaf, which remains one of the most dangerous groups in Southeast Asia.

In their first known major clash, Abu Sayyaf gunmen battled rebels from the larger Moro National Liberation Front in fighting early this week, leaving at least 22 combatants dead in the mountainous jungles on southern Jolo Island. A Moro rebel was beheaded — Abu Sayyaf’s signature act.

Bonded by blood ties and war, the two armed groups had co-existed for years on Jolo in a predominantly Muslim region, where abject poverty, guns and weak law enforcement have combined in an explosive mix to fuel their rebellions and pockets of lawlessness.

The trouble began after the Moro rebels — seeking to regain their former dominance in the region — tried to arrange the release of several hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, including a prominent Jordanian TV journalist and two European tourists. When the Abu Sayyaf commanders refused to free the hostages, Moro rebels launched an attack.

The Moro rebels are now trying to rescue the captives and end the Abu Sayyaf’s reign, Moro commander Khabier Malik told The Associated Press.

“We breath the same air, speak the same language and live and fight in the same jungle,” he said by telephone. “We’re a bigger force and we cannot allow this small group to reign with this brutality.”

For years, a shadowy alliance is believed to have existed between the groups. While the Moro rebels signed a limited peace deal with the government years ago, some Moro commanders are suspected of giving sanctuary to Abu Sayyaf men and carrying out kidnappings for ransom with them.

“Collusion between the Abu Sayyaf Group and MNLF members — many of whom are relatives — on Jolo is a major reason why large swaths of the island have been essentially ungovernable for years,” said Bryony Lau of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group think tank. The government “should consider whether the recent clash has shifted relations between them in a way that could make it easier to isolate senior figures of the Abu Sayyaf Group.”

But the rift offers no easy answers for the Philippines. Weaning the Moro rebels from hardened militants would mean a true government alliance with the rebels, some of whom are suspected of involvement in attacks on civilians and government forces.

Walking a tightrope amid the clashes, President Benigno Aquino III said the Moro offensive was not sanctioned by his government. But government officials also are not trying to stop the fighting, presumably hoping each group weakens the other. Police and soldiers have simply set up checkpoints to seal off the area around the fighting, trying to keep it from spilling into other rural areas.

Sulu provincial Governor Abdusakur Tan said he would allow the Moro attacks to continue, at least for now.

“They’re cleaning their ranks. These kidnappers are either their former members or one of their own,” Tan said.

The Moro National Liberation Front spearheaded an underground movement in the early 1970s for a separatist Islamic state. But it dropped its secessionist goal when it accepted limited autonomy for minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation’s south, prompting key guerrillas to break away, including a Libyan-educated radical, who established the Abu Sayyaf.

Another major guerrilla bloc broke off from the original Moro group and formed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has emerged as the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

The Moro rebels were not required to disarm under the landmark 1996 peace deal, allowing fighters to settle to their Jolo communities with their weapons. The accord also lacked a provision to formally enlist the rebels in hunting down criminals and terrorists straying into their strongholds, an oversight that may have helped foster collusion years later between the Moro rebels and the Abu Sayyaf.

Philippine officials forged such a pact in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with impressive results. Hunted by U.S.-backed Filipino troops in 2005, Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani and other militants sought refuge in a stronghold Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which turned them away. Janjalani, then among the most-wanted terrorist suspects in Southeast Asia, was killed by troops the following year on Jolo.

The Abu Sayyaf — “Bearer of the Sword” in Arabic — was founded with funds and training believed to come from a collection of Asian and Middle Eastern radical groups, including al-Qaida. It came to U.S. attention in 2001 when it kidnapped three Americans, one of whom was beheaded, along with dozens of Filipinos and openly swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden’s movement.

The kidnappings prompted Washington to deploy hundreds of troops in the south in 2002 to train Philippine forces and share intelligence, helping the military capture or kill most of the Abu Sayyaf’s top commanders. Now without a central leader, the group has less than 400 armed fighters, who the military says are constantly on the run from U.S.-backed local offensives.

Philippine security officials attribute the Abu Sayyaf’s resilience to the difficulty of hunting down small pockets of fighters by soldiers unfamiliar with the vast mountainous jungles of Jolo and outlying islands.

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  • ApoLapullapu

    This cleansing of the Moro ranks of lawless elements could have started long ago after the MNLF-GRP Agreement of 1996.  But Erap’s all-out war united all the rebel factions against the government and set back the solution of the Mindanao problem to square one..

    • reader2323

      BEFORE PRES. ERAP ALL OUT WAR AGAINST THE MILF
      1. MILF declared that Independence thru armed struggle is the solution, they also include the Palawan.
      2. Businessman was heavily extorted by the lawless elements
      3.the narciso ramos highway connecting central mindanao via maguindanao and lanao sur to Northern Mindanao cannot be used by the motorist and manned by the MILF troops, you need to get passes from the MILF so that you can used the highway. 
      4. MILF elements can boast they are a member they even reveal their rank.

      AFTER PRES. ERAP ALL OUT WAR AGAINST THE MILF give a lot of benefits to the people of Central Mindanao1. the rebel group learned a lesson that armed struggle is not the solution of the problem, peace negotiation is the real solution.
      2. it cleans the lawless elements temporarily in central mindanao
      3. the extortion done by the rebel group to the businessman was lessen.
      4. the narciso ramos highway connecting central mindanao via maguindanao and lanao sur to Northern Mindanao was open to the motorist and manned by the government troops. 
      5.MILF elements stay low profile.

  • Fulpol

    Sulu provincial Governor Abdusakur Tan said he would allow the Moro attacks to continue, at least for now.
    “They’re cleaning their ranks. These kidnappers are either their former members or one of their own,” Tan said.
    —————————————————————–
    really?????

  • reychard678

    The historic emergence of the MNLF to fight the Abu Sayyaf must not be hurrahed by the government but instead such be implanted into their minds that it’s a slap to their faces and that they should be conscience stricken or to say the least be ashamed since a rebel group is now taking the cudgel to fight in their behalf.

    We, Filipino citizens who had been pining for nationwide peace and harmony are the people to be extremely happy excluding the Pnoy’s government and be in debt to these MNLF for their bravery to put an end to the atrocities of these terrorist groups–Abu Sayyaf.

    If I were Aquino, I would resign from my position as commander in chief of the AFP since I publicly showed my cowardice to fight and stop these terrorist group from sowing fear and havoc to the Filipino people including the tourists who desire to enjoy the amenities and the beautiful spots in our country.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XALR35ENV2XKV327BZGZ7Q5Z5Q Ernesto

    walang pupunta na investor dyan,ganyan talaga ang utak ng tao dyan

  • amor tamayo

    MABUHAY ANG MGA BANGSAMORO AT MGA MUSLIM SA BUONG PILIPINAS!!! MABUHAY ANG ATING PRESIDENTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MAGKAISA NA TAYO PARA SA IKALILIGAYA AT IKATATAHIMIK NG ATING PAMUMUHAY MUSLIM MAN O CRISTIANO!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • jikanhinia123

    It’s good that Associated Press didn’t focus on the negative side of this news report but only articulated on the actual gun battle history. The dark side issue on its repercussion to the leadership of the sitting president wasn’t touched so consequently Aquino is spared and elated for the meantime. But sooner critics would enter the scene to fire their potshots and he shall lose his face for allowing a rebel group perform the chore of cleaning up the mess of the extremist group in lieu of the military.

    • reader2323

      buti na yan na gagamitin ang mga mokong na yan para sila lng ang magpatayan, kung sa akin lng tama ang ginawa ng ating Presedente at mka save pa tayo ng buhay ng ating mga sundalo

  • virgoyap

    What’s behind the MNLF’s hostility against the Abu Sayyaf? Is this not a show of force? Is this not to show to everybody who among the Muslim rebels in Mindanao is the greatest? But the MNLF came out late.This is one thing Misuari have to think about.

  • BatchDekada80

    Shooting people at the back is a well known tactic of the MNLF, may it be friend or foe, they do the same. Look back some 3 decades ago, They massacred our Government troops in Pata Island by disguising themselves as rebel returnees, an act sanctioned by Nur Missuari himself, So it doesn’t come as a surprise that they are on a shooting spree with their “shadowy alliance” with Abu Sayyaf, a group that no longer offers benefit to them. 

  • reader2323

    KUNG ang ISAFP ang tanungin tungkol dito kahit ang mga mamayan na nakatira sa balwarte nila iisa lng yan sila MNLF, MILF at ABUSAYAF, kumander ng MNLF kapatid, pinsan o tito nya ang nasa MILF at ABUSAYAF o vice versa. Nagkataon lng yan na isang MUSLIM din ang kanilang kinidnap, Jordanian , Jordan member ng OIC, na pressure lng ang MNLF dahil ang OIC ang kanilang financier.
    sana noon pa nila ito ginawa matagal na sana peaceful ang kanilang lugar pero hindi pa huli ang lahat at sana seryoso talaga sila na lipunin ang mga masamang elemento ng kanilang hanay.

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