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Both gov’t, MILF forces at fault, says int’l group

By: - Reporter / @NikkoDizonINQ
/ 03:15 AM April 07, 2015
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Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. AP FILE PHOTO

Some members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) might have known “the whereabouts” of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his cohorts but there was no evidence that the MILF “as an organization” gave them sanctuary, an international group tasked to monitor the ceasefire between the government and the rebel group said in its report on the Jan. 25 Mamasapano clash.

The International Monitoring Team (IMT) also said that both the government security forces and the Moro rebels were at fault in the botched police counterterrorism operation that left more than 60 people dead, violating the ceasefire.

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The IMT said there was reason to “assume” that the police Special Action Force (SAF) fired the first shots that led to a gun battle in Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

The daylong gun battle left 44 SAF commandos, 17 MILF rebels and three civilians dead.

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“There is no evidence to show that the MILF as an organization provided sanctuary or assistance [to criminal or lawless elements]. However, this does not dispel claims that some members of the MILF might have had knowledge of the whereabouts of Marwan and [his Filipino associate] Basit Usman,” the IMT report said.

The IMT said the MILF fighters’ “actions” could be considered their “response” to the uncoordinated movement of the SAF, and as such was not a violation of the ceasefire agreement signed by the government and the MILF in 1997.

Aggressive action

But the IMT noted that the entry of the MILF fighters into the cornfield where the 55th Special Action Company (SAC) was “may be considered a violation” of a section of the ceasefire agreement, referring to aggressive actions such as “attacks, ambuscades, land mining, and offensive military action.”

Chief government peace negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer presented an overview of the IMT findings in a press conference yesterday. She said the IMT e-mailed copies of its report to the government and the MILF peace panels on Sunday night.

The IMT, organized in 2002, is composed of 38 peacekeepers from Malaysia, Brunei, Japan, Norway and Indonesia.

It is led by Malaysian head of mission Maj. Gen. Samad bin Yaakub.

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Malaysia is the facilitator of peace talks between the government and the MILF.

Verification

Ferrer said the IMT conducted a “verification” of the Mamasapano incident, not a “thorough investigation,” following its mandate to monitor the two parties’ adherence to the ceasefire agreement.

She said the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) was to submit a copy of the IMT report to President Aquino yesterday afternoon during a security cluster meeting in Malacañang.

Other members of the security cluster will be given copies of the IMT report, she said.

“The [IMT] report will stand side by side with the other reports, particularly with the [Philippine National Police board of inquiry report] and the Senate committee report, which is still in the process of being consolidated and getting [the] final [approval] of the senators. The [Commission on Human Rights] has a report, and the MILF report is out there,” Ferrer said.

“If there are judicial proceedings that would follow from all of these, then it is up to the [Department of Justice] to do the case buildup based on the reports and based on its investigation conducted by the [National Bureau of Investigation],” she added.

Valid operation

The IMT recognized that the SAF operation against Marwan, Usman and Malaysian terrorist Amin Baco on Jan. 25 was a “valid law enforcement operation.” It stressed, however, that the “ceasefire protocols were not observed during the planning and execution of Oplan: Exodus,” the SAF mission to capture the three terrorists.

It also said that the encounter site between the 55th SAC and the MILF fighters in Tukanalipao is an “accepted MILF area/community under the control of [Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces] base commanders.”

But the IMT recognized that questions have been raised on the “clear definition of what constitutes an MILF area/community other than those referred to in signed documents” such as the Joint Acknowledgment of Feb. 10, 1999, and the Joint Statement of Feb. 17, 1999.

Mixed community

“Let us not misinterpret an ‘MILF community.’ They are not the government there. These are only areas where there are many MILF. But the fact is [Tukanalipao] is a mixed community of 20,000 where only 1,000 are members of armed groups. The rest are civilians or noncombatants,” Ferrer said.

The IMT said that after the raid on Marwan’s hut and the clash between the 84th SAC Seaborne and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the SAF “engaged the MILF-BIAF, which went from ‘the status of deliberately uncoordinated movements to a disastrous fire fight between the 55th SAC and elements of the BIAF 105th Base Command.”

No evidence of executions

The IMT also said there was no evidence that the MILF fighters executed the wounded SAF commandos, but they should not have pillaged the properties of the slain commandos because these were considered “military and not personal items.”

An SAF survivor, PO2 Christopher Lalan, however, violated international humanitarian laws and the ceasefire agreement when he killed four sleeping MILF fighters in a hut in Mamasapano on Jan. 26.

If it was also proven that the SAF failed to “take precautions” to protect civilians in their area of operation, then they violated international humanitarian laws and the ceasefire agreement as well.

The IMT also noted that MILF fighters “indiscriminately” continue to carry their firearms while interacting with civilians, which could result in civilian casualties.

It noted that the implementation guidelines for law enforcement operations involving high-value targets like Marwan can be interpreted as coordinating within 24 hours or having an exemption from coordinating with the two parties.

Recommendations

To avoid another untoward incident like Mamasapano, the IMT recommended that the guidelines in the Joint Communiqué of 2012 be clarified and until clarification, the coordination of law enforcement operations should be done within 24 hours.

The IMT also recommended, among other things, that the government “coordinate and initiate the use of the conflict preventive mechanisms available when launching law enforcement operations in known MILF areas.”

It also recommended that the MILF-BIAF “strengthen its command and control among its ranks as well as intelligence in their organization.”

The IMT also said that PNP and BIAF personnel found to have “committed crimes” should be penalized for violating international humanitarian laws.

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TAGS: clash, International Monitoring Team, investigation, Maguindanao, Mamasapano, Mamasapano mission, Marwan, MILF, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Oplan Exodus, peace process, Philippine Government, report, Special Action Force
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