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MILF: 64 cops were killed

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MILF: 64 cops were killed

Gov’t: Peace process continues
/ 12:28 AM January 27, 2015
FALLEN COP  Policemen carry the body bag of a comrade, one of 64 members of the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police who died in a clash with Moro fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, while on a mission to arrest a Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert. Eight Moro fighters were reported killed.  JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

FALLEN COP Policemen carry the body bag of a comrade, one of 64 members of the elite Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police who died in a clash with Moro fighters in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, while on a mission to arrest a Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert. Eight Moro fighters were reported killed. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

MAMASAPANO, Maguindanao—The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reported on Monday that 64 bodies were recovered from the site of a clash between its fighters and police commandos on Sunday.

A report by MILF investigators, which was submitted to the MILF Central Committee, said the 64 bodies belonged to the US-trained police commandos who entered this town early on Sunday to serve warrants of arrest on Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) commander Basit Usman and Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” a bomb expert linked to the Indonesia-based terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Marwan is on the US list of most wanted terrorists, with $5 million offered for his arrest. Usman has a $2-million price on his head. He is a local terrorist, not a Malaysian as earlier reported.

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Marwan was reportedly killed during the clash, but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the military was still investigating to see if the report was valid.

The MILF report said 36 of the slain policemen belonged to one police unit and 28 belonged to another unit. The units were not identified in the report.

The report also said eight members of the MILF and the BIFF were killed, while more than a dozen were wounded in the clash.

Abdulaziz Antao, an MILF investigator, told the Inquirer that the bodies of the 64 policemen and the bodies of the Moro guerrillas were recovered by volunteer residents.

Disclosure of the slain policemen’s names has to be coordinated with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the government and the MILF, Antao said.

Bodies returned

He said the bodies of the slain members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) were loaded in a truck and transported to the headquarters of the Philippine Army’s 6th Division in Awang town, Maguindanao province, at noon on Monday.

Residents of Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak town watched as a 10-vehicle police convoy, including the truck carrying the bodies of the slain policemen, passed by.

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“We can’t allow this kind of incident to just pass without anyone being held responsible,” a police officer who refused to be identified told the Inquirer.

The government reported fewer casualties in the clash, as security forces were still trying to extract bodies from the clash site, the PNP said.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas called the clash a “misencounter” between SAF members and MILF and BIFF rebels.

Roxas said 43 SAF commandos running after Marwan and Usman were killed in the clash with MILF and BIFF guerrillas.

It was the “single largest loss of life” in the history of the country’s security forces, he said.

PNP in mourning

Flags were lowered to half-staff at all PNP camps on Monday in mourning for the slain policemen.

“We can call these SAF operatives fallen heroes. They did their job. They conducted a dangerous operation. They penetrated an unsafe territory and they ran after these terrorists who were linked to several bombings not only here but internationally as well,” Roxas told a press briefing.

Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, PNP officer in charge, said among the policemen killed were seven officers and 36 noncommissioned officers.

Eleven were wounded and a commando from the 55th Special Action Company remained missing, Espina said.

Espina said he would head a board of inquiry that would investigate the clash.

He said he was informed that there were 392 commandos in SAF units in Kidapawan, Cotabato, General Santos City and Zamboanga City, among other places.

“I want to know how many were killed, how many were wounded, how many are still missing,” Espina said.

He said the “special operations” against Marwan and Usman, “who posed a serious threat to the country,” began at 10 p.m. on Saturday.

“However, when the Special Action Force people were withdrawing, they were ambushed by members of the BIFF and had a misencounter, allegedly, which has to be verified and validated, with [the] MILF,” he said.

Roxas and Espina stressed that the SAF mission was a “law-enforcement operation” against the two terrorists.

The clash was the first since the government and the MILF signed a peace agreement last year.

Congress is discussing a bill that would establish an autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao, as provided for in the peace deal.

Roxas acknowledged that the incident would have an impact on the peace process.

“Naturally, there will be some impact. Although we are hopeful and confident that this would not derail the peace talks. As we have said, and as has been explained, this is not directed against the MILF, but this is directed against a very, very specific high-profile terrorist, [a] bomber who was in the area,” Roxas said.

The MILF said on Sunday that the PNP did not coordinate the SAF operation with them and that the policemen attacked the MILF position, leading to the firefight.

The fighting lasted for 11 hours, but it was unclear whether the policemen received military combat support.

There was coordination

Gazmin belied reports of lack of coordination, saying the SAF did coordinate with the military in the area at the tactical level.

But because of the presence of high-value targets, he said, the SAF members went ahead with the operation and encountered the BIFF.

Hearing about the firefight, the Army immediately sent reinforcements and extricated the policemen from the scene of the encounter.

Espina said the board of inquiry would investigate to see if there was military support for the huge operation and to find out why the SAF failed to inform the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

Also to be investigated was the possibility that the SAF operation was inspired by the reward for the capture of Marwan.

“It could very well be,” Roxas said when asked if the attraction of the bounty played a part in the SAF mission.

“I do not discount it. That’s why we are forming a board of inquiry,” he said.

In Malacañang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino had been on top of the situation since the clash was reported on Sunday.

He said the Armed Forces of the Philippines enforced a ceasefire starting 5 p.m. on Sunday to allow the recovery of bodies in cooperation with the MILF, the international monitoring team and the Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities.

Despite the bloody incident, Coloma said there was no change in the government’s stand on the Bangsamoro peace initiative.

“The view of the government has not changed. The peace process is important in Mindanao, passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law is important, and we will continue to pursue the peace process,” he said.

Coloma said there was no need for an emergency meeting with the peace panel and the MILF since there was a regular consultation with Malacañang.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the government, said the incident posed a big problem, but maintained that the MILF was committed to the peace process.

He said the police commandos swooped down on Mamasapano at 3 a.m. on Sunday to arrest Marwan and Usman but without coordinating the operation with the MILF, as required under the peace agreement.

While he recognized that the incident was a setback, Iqbal said he hoped peace timetables would not be impacted.

“We are committed [to the peace process]. For the MILF, the ceasefire still holds,” he said.–With reports from Nikko Dizon in Maguindanao; Gil C. Cabacungan, Julie M. Aurelio and Cynthia Balana in Manila; Edwin O. Fernandez and Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP

 

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