New MILF attacks kill 7

Troops pursue rebels in Basilan, Lanao Norte

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02:33 AM October 24th, 2011

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October 24th, 2011 02:33 AM

Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas struck twice on Sunday, leaving five civilians and two more soldiers dead amid a rising clamor for swift military action against the perpetrators of the worst government losses in years.

The Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) reported that Hassan Asnawi, a commander of the MILF’s 114th Base Command, led a 50-strong force that ambushed a truck owned by a rubber cooperative in Basilan, leaving five civilians dead and eight others wounded.

In Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Norte, armed men ambushed troops led by Lt. Col. Bagnum Gaerlan of the 5th Infantry Battalion, killing two soldiers and wounding four others.

Suspected MILF rebels also seized two schools in Zamboanga Sibugay on Saturday, police said.

The fatalities in the two attacks put the overall toll of lives in Mindanao in renewed violence last week at 33—28 of them soldiers and policemen. The dead included 19 killed in Basilan on Oct. 18 and seven on Oct. 21 in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, Wesmincom spokesperson, said troops had been dispatched to pursue the rebels in Basilan and Lanao del Norte.

MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said a Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team headed by Maj. Gen. Dato Mahdi Bin Yusof had started investigating the Oct. 18 incident. He said the findings would be discussed upon the resumption of peace talks next month in Kuala Lumpur.

President Benigno Aquino III has promised relatives of the slain government troops that those behind the attacks would be hunted down, but he rejected growing calls for the government to review its peace talks with the MILF.

Mr. Aquino sacked the Army spokesperson, Col. Antonio Parlade, for telling reporters that the government should suspend negotiations with the MILF and go after the perpetrators of the Oct. 18 massacre.

Senators were divided on the President’s decision to pursue peace talks, but all of those interviewed by the Inquirer on Sunday were for immediate military action.

Daylight attack

In the House of Representatives, San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito urged Mr. Aquino to take a strong action against the rebels and warned against a coup d’etat from disgruntled soldiers. Other lawmakers dismissed the threat, saying the President’s high popularity rating would prevent a power grab.

Maj. Harold Cabunoc, the acting Army spokesperson, said Gaerlan’s troops were ambushed about 11 a.m. on Sunday while traversing the Tukuran-Parang Road at Barangay Payong in Sultan Naga Dimaporo.

Gaerlan, who was riding in a civilian vehicle, was unharmed. Those killed and injured were onboard a KM450 military truck.

Cpl. Benjamin Aguilar, who was among those wounded, identified the dead as Corporals Jonathan Anot and Rolly Duhaylungsod, and the wounded as Capt. Antonio Raymond Barnes, S/Sgt. Johnny Dayoc and Sgt. Jaime Tamayo.

“The identities of the assailants are unknown but the MILF has forces roaming around in the area. They don’t have an ‘area of temporary stay’ in that town,” Cabunoc said. “If it is established that the MILF is behind the ambush, this is a clear ceasefire violation.”

He said Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, had dispatched reinforcements backed by armored vehicles to pursue the perpetrators.

The initial report reaching the Army said Gaerlan was on his way to facilitate the surrender of two MILF members.

Rubber tappers

The Army said the rubber workers were ambushed at Sitio Along-Along between Barangay Upper Cabengbeng and Barangay Sapah Bulak in Sumisip, Basilan, around 5:30 a.m.

Cabunoc said those killed and injured were on a truck owned by Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. Development Cooperative that was used to haul rubber.

Killed were Renato Aligay, Junrel Langugon, Delord Johnson and Buenaventura Lugamay, all rubber tappers, and militiaman Fernando Tantalo. Wounded were workers Danilo Tonghay, Julibert Dingkong, Adzar Madjakin, Francisco Taklindo, Abdul Mot and Alfredo Rojas, and militiamen Gilbert Guevarra and Bonifacio Dagodog Jr.

Cabunoc said Army Scout Rangers were sent to go after the attackers. He said pursuit operations were allowed under ceasefire rules, pointing out the assault took place not in an “area of temporary stay” of the MILF.

Invoking the existing ceasefire agreement, the government did not pursue the MILF rebels who killed 19 Army Special Forces troops and wounded 14 others on Oct. 18 at Barangay Cambug in Al-Barka, Basilan.

The military, however, claimed the 41 Special Forces troops were 4 kilometers away from the recognized MILF “area of temporary stay” in Al-Barka when a large group of MILF rebels led by Dan Laksaw Asnawi ambushed them.

Local ceasefire

Chief Supt. Bienvenido Latag, police chief for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said the latest MILF attacks happened after a local ceasefire agreement was reached with MILF representatives in Davao City on Saturday.

“We were assured that the harassment would stop beginning Sunday,” Latag said. He said the call for ceasefire had been relayed not just to the police but also to the military.

Von al Haq, MILF spokesperson, also expressed surprise at the weekend violence.

“How could that be when a ceasefire has been holding since Sunday?” he asked when told about reports of MILF forces occupying two public schools in Zamboanga Sibugay on Saturday night and the ambushes in Basilan and Lanao del Norte.

Al Haq said that during the meeting in Davao City on Saturday, both sides agreed to respect the ceasefire. “All units from various grounds were directed to respect the ceasefire and we made sure the directive transcended down to various commands,” he said.

Schools seized

On Saturday night, Senior Supt. Ruben Cariaga, police chief for Zamboanga Sibugay, reported that a certain Said, allegedly a commander of the MILF in Cotabato City, led some 150 men in occupying two public elementary schools in Talusan town.

Cariaga reported Said’s group destroyed some parts of Samonte Elementary School and took rice and two cows before moving to the adjacent village of Bulingan, where they also occupied Bulingan Elementary School.

Al Haq denied knowing Said. “We will check our records because we have so many commanders on the ground and his name is not so familiar to us,” he said.

“Since Saturday noon, all the units on the ground are under instruction to maintain defensive position and no one should move unless they are attacked,” Al Haq said.

“Where is our government? Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad asked while saying a prayer for the slain rubber workers. “Who will feed their children now? I hope the national leaders will do something so that the people may feel that the government is doing something for them.”

With reports from Julie S. Alipala, Jeoffrey Maitem and Hernan dela Cruz, Inquirer Mindanao; Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila; AFP and AP

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