Gov’t, MILF ink pact to defuse Basilan tension | Inquirer News

Gov’t, MILF ink pact to defuse Basilan tension

Death toll in Ungkaya Pukan clashes now 7, including a civilian hit in crossfire

ZAMBOANGA CITY—Representatives from the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) met on Thursday and tapped existing peace mechanisms to defuse tensions between its forces in Ungkaya Pukan town, Basilan province.

According to Brig. Gen. Arturo Rojas, acting chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), officials of the joint coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities (CCCH) and the ad hoc joint action group (AHJAG), discussed measures to immediately stop the violence in Barangay Ulitan that flared on Tuesday. At least seven, including a civilian, had died in the clashes.

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The Inquirer learned that among those in the meeting with Rojas were Undersecretary David Diciano, chair of the government’s peace implementing panel; Col. Frederick Sales, deputy commander of the Army’s 101st Infantry Brigade and head of government’s AHJAG contingent in Basilan; Brig. Gen. Eduardo Gubat, assistant commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division and head of the government CCCH panel; Butch Malang, head of the MILF’s CCCH panel; Anwar Alamada, chair of the MILF’s AHJAG contingent; and Ryan Jungco, operations officer of the government’s CCCH panel in Basilan.

The AHJAG was set up in 2002 as an avenue for joint efforts by the MILF and government in the “isolation and interdiction of all criminal syndicates, kidnap-for-ransom groups and other criminal groups, including the so-called ‘lost commands’ operating in Mindanao.”

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“We are currently employing ceasefire mechanisms to pacify the situation … We are grateful for the actions currently being undertaken by the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the Basilan local government unit to help us contain the situation in order not to escalate,” Rojas said in a statement on Thursday.

Avoiding casualties

In light of these developments, Rojas ordered government troops “to strengthen defensive position to avoid casualties and collateral damage.”

“My primary order is to protect the integrity of the peace process and abide by the ceasefire agreement. Rest assured that we are on top of the situation and we are for peace,” Rojas said.

On Tuesday, Army troopers and members of the 114 Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the MILF’s armed wing which is in the process of being decommissioned, clashed in Barangay Ulitan, killing three BIAF members.

‘Miscommunication’

On Wednesday afternoon, three soldiers were killed and seven others injured when they were attacked while on a resupply mission in Ulitan. The slain soldiers, who belong to the Army’s 18th Infantry Battalion, were identified as Cpl. Alberto Dal Jr. and PFCs Nelson Bantoc and Junry Vega.

The hostilities between the parties broke out amid the ongoing implementation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, a landmark peace deal that supposedly ended the Moro rebellion.Rojas said the clashes erupted due to “miscommunication.”

Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, commander of the Army’s 101st Infantry Brigade, told Cotabato City-based News NOW, that the incident stemmed from the BIAF members’ insistence of bringing their firearms as they settle back to Ulitan. INQ

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TAGS: Basilan, MILF, Mindanao, peace, talks
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