Moro rebels considering return of seized weapons
The high-powered firearms seized by Moro rebels from the 44 police commandos killed in a clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province, might still be returned to show the commitment of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to the peace process, the group’s chief peace negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal said.
“We are discussing the very sensitive issue of returning the firearms …. A decision will be made very soon,” Iqbal said, adding that the MILF central committee had yet to decide on the return of the firearms as requested by Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
“There is no decision by the central committee yet, but we are taking (the request) seriously,” Iqbal said.
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF vice chair for political affairs, said the result of the MILF’s investigation will be decisive on the group’s decision on the seized firearms.
“(After) we’re done with the official report of our men, we will have deliberations and then we’ll decide if we will return their guns or not,” Jaafar said.
Iqbal said the firearms were still intact contrary to earlier reports that some of them had already been sold.
Night vision goggles for sale
In a television interview, an alleged gunrunner who claimed he acts as a middleman for some armed groups in Maguindanao, said his contacts in the MILF had told him that the firearms could not be sold as there was a plan to return them.
But the other seized items, such as bulletproof vests and night vision goggles, were now being sold to those who can afford them, the gunrunner said, adding that his contacts had asked him to sell four Lakefield Biathlon B90 rifles similar to a sniper rifle, which were bought by a politician.
Iqbal said the man could be referring to Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen and not MILF forces.
“I don’t think our men will sell what they got because it’s prohibited under (the) guidelines (of the peace agreement),” he said of the peace treaty that the MILF signed with the government last year.
The symbolic decommissioning of the first batch of rebel firearms was scheduled for March, Iqbal said, adding that the peace process “remains on track, though delayed.”
The firearms were seized from the police commandos killed after more than 10 hours of fighting with the Moro rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, on Jan. 25. The men from the Special Action Force (SAF) were on a mission to hunt down Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” a top militant in the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and a key suspect in the 2002 Bali bombings.
Initial DNA tests conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the SAF had killed Marwan, although the Mamasapano clash cost the government troops its biggest loss of life in recent memory.
The return of the SAF’s firearms was “one step toward accountability,” said Philippine National Police spokesperson Generoso Cerbo.
“This is a good development, although it won’t be complete unless the perpetrators are identified,” he added.
But Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte expressed doubts that the firearms would be returned, saying that firearms seized during any war or encounter were considered “war booties.”
“It’s as if you are asking (for the lives of the MILF men),” he said.
The mayor, however, said that despite the clash, the peace talks should go on.
“We don’t have any choice,” Duterte said, “You cannot attain peace by simply killing all your enemies. Everything will end back at the negotiating table,” he added. With a report from AFP