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MILF returns 16 SAF arms so far

FIREARMS RETURNED  Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. (left) talks with Maj. Gen. Dato Abdul Samad Bin HJ Yaaub, head of the International Monitoring Team, as the AFP official inspects some of the weapons returned on Wednesday by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

FIREARMS RETURNED Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. (left) talks with Maj. Gen. Dato Abdul Samad Bin HJ Yaaub, head of the International Monitoring Team, as the AFP official inspects some of the weapons returned on Wednesday by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday handed in 16 assault rifles taken by its members from police commandos killed in a clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province on Jan. 25.

An MILF delegation headed by Mohagher Iqbal, the rebel group’s chief peace negotiator, turned over the rifles to government representatives including chief peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. and Senior Supt. Noel Armilla, officer in charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Police Office.

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“This issue is very sensitive. Some people will think this unthinkable but as what we said, we are willing to travel the extra mile for us to have peace,” said Iqbal, who was accompanied by MILF ceasefire committee chair Rashid Ladiasan to the turnover ceremonies held at the headquarters of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

 

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Five Presidents

“It took five Presidents and 17 years to talk peace and we cannot afford that the Mamasapano incident would let it down,”he said.

Iqbal also said the MILF’s returning the slain commandos’ firearms should not be misinterpreted.

“It was to return and not surrender these firearms that were in our possession to put the public connotation in proper perspective,” he said.

Looking for other firearms

Iqbal told the Inquirer in an interview that the MILF was also continuing its efforts to retrieve the other missing firearms of the slain SAF members and the personal belongings taken from them in the aftermath of the clash.

At Wednesday’s turnover, the MILF also handed over a mobile phone that reportedly belonged to one of the slain commandos and five ammunition magazines.

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He said the MILF did not discount the possibility that other MILF members were in possession of some of the still missing firearms and personal items belonging to the slain policemen.

“Our efforts are not over with the turnover of the 16 firearms. We are trying to find out if there are still others remaining in the hands of our members,” Iqbal added.

The firearms—two Finland-made K3 light machine guns, two M4/M203 grenade launchers, and 12 M4/M4A1 carbines—were retrieved through the efforts of the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee and had been in government hands since late Tuesday, according to government and MILF officials.

For the sake of peace

“This is for the sake of the peace process in Mindanao. We already tested the pathway of war. The issue that we are confronting now in relation to the firearms is not to justify our position (on the Mamasapano incident) but of full partnership,” Iqbal said.

“We saw that the way going to war is not good. All of us suffer. What we need now is to go on the road leading to peace,” he added.

Iqbal said that for the MILF, returning the firearms is the best thing the MILF leadership can do under the current situation.

The Jan. 25 clash between Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and guerrillas from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the MILF has thrown the peace process into doubt and left President Aquino facing a political crisis.

Forty-four SAF commandos were killed in the first clash between government security forces and the MILF in nearly four years.

The 12-hour gun battle that ended a SAF mission that killed Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” also killed 18 MILF guerrillas and five civilians.

A public outcry over the killing of the commandos heaped pressure on Aquino to abandon a peace agreement with the MILF and seek retribution for their deaths.

Ferrer told reporters during the turnover ceremonies that returning the commandos’ firearms was difficult for the MILF because it had to exert extra effort to get the rifles from its members, who also lost companions in the fighting.

Going the extra mile

A military source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak to journalists, informed the Inquirer on Tuesday that international peace monitors and peace negotiators from the government and the MILF went to Madia, a remote village in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, around 5:30 p.m. to get the weapons from the rebels’ 105th Base Command.

“We provided security to them in going to Madia. The mission was just quick. They pulled out of the area around 6:35 p.m.,” the source said.

Catapang said he would personally hand over the firearms to PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

“I would like to thank Iqbal for indeed going the extra mile. For doing these things with us to jump-start our peace talks in Mindanao,” Catapang said.

“We have to claim peace in our country. And therefore, I say this gesture is fitting. I’d like also to say to the MILF to go an extra mile for all of us,” he added.

Ferrer repeated her earlier statement that the Mamasapano incident was not a reason to go to war.

“While [the] ceasefire was tainted, we are still here along with the MILF. And we still believe in the peace talks in our joint and separate commitments,” Ferrer said.

Iqbal said the Mamasapano incident should be treated with objectivity.

“I appeal to the media to be objective—not to take sides and be fair. I hope they will project that peace is better than war in Mindanao,” he said.

BIFF not doing the same

The BIFF said it would not hand in the firearms taken by its fighters from the slain policemen.

“We have no plans of returning the firearms. Why should we?”Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesman, said.

BIFF fighters, he said, took at least 10 rifles—including four M16s, a Bushmaster rifle, three M16s with M203 grenade launchers and a 90-mm recoilless rifle from slain policemen.

He said the firearms would be given to new members or old fighters who had no weapons.

Iqbal also said the gains of the peace process should not be wasted because of the Mamasapano incident.

The PNP urged people who may have bought the missing firearms and other personal belongings of the slain commandos to return them or they would be prosecuted.

The PNP also thanked the MILF for returning some of the slain policemen’s firearms.

Chief Supt. Generoso Cerbo Jr. told reporters on Wednesday that the PNP had made an inventory of the firearms, safety equipment and personal belongings lost in the Mamasapano clash.

Cerbo reiterated the PNP’s warning to people who would be found to be keeping the slain commandos’ equipment, reminding the public that private citizens are not allowed to own high-powered firearms.

Return the rest

In Malacañang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the MILF should return the rest of the firearms and personal belongings of the slain commandos.

Coloma said the government also wanted the MILF to go after Basit Usman, the Filipino deputy of Jemaah Islamiyah bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” who avoided arrest after the commandos killed the Malaysian-born terrorist.

“It was partly a response to the President’s appeal that they show concrete proof that they can still be trusted as the government’s partner in the peace process,” he said, referring to the MILF’s handing in the 16 rifles.–With reports from Marlon Ramos, Christian V. Esguerra and wires

Originally posted:  11:30 AM | Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

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TAGS: 6th Infantry Division, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Basit Usman, biff, bloodshed, carnage, Ceasefire, clash, Datu Odin Sinsuat municipality, Encounter, Firearms, government-issued firearms, gun battle, high powered firearms, internal defense, law enforcement, looting, Maguindanao, manhunt for terrorists, Marwan, Massacre, massacre of policemen, MILF, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, News, peace process, Philippine Army, Philippine National Police, pursuit operations, Regions, return of firearms, Security, Special Action Force, Zulkifli bin Hir
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