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MILF willing to help end Marawi crisis

/ 11:19 PM June 28, 2017

Chief negotiator for MILF Mohagher Iqbal: Still “thinking” . AP FILE PHOTO

First published: 2:01 p.m., June 28, 2017

OZAMIZ CITY — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is open to helping resolve the Marawi crisis, a leader of the group that has signed a peace deal with the government said on Wednesday.

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Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF peace implementation panel, said the group was willing to take an active role to help put an end to fighting between government forces and Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists in Marawi, but would intervene only “in the greater regard of civilian interest.”

But the MILF has not received a request for intervention, he said.

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“It is not impossible, especially if the civilian interest is at stake. If there is a request, the MILF leadership will probably consider the idea,” Iqbal told the Inquirer by phone.

The fighting between government forces and gunmen from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf terrorist groups who seized Marawi on
May 23 has reduced much of the city to rubble.

Most of the city’s more than 200,000 residents have fled the fighting and are now sheltering in government-run evacuation centers in nearby Iligan City and surrounding areas.

Sanitation has become a problem in the overcrowded shelters, raising fears of an outbreak of disease.

At least 24 people have died from dehydration, pneumonia and other illnesses in the shelters, according to the Department of Health.

The fighting for control of predominantly Muslim Marawi has entered its sixth week, with 397 people killed, including 299 terrorists, 71 soldiers and police, and 27 civilians.

After rampaging through Marawi — seizing and killing Christians, burning their homes and desecrating a cathedral — the terrorists who had pledged allegiance to the IS group in Iraq and Syria had been driven to a square-kilometer pocket of the city, holed up in houses and buildings, and holding civilians as human shields.

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They were looking for a way out and told Muslim emissaries who came to talk to them on Sunday that they were willing to withdraw from Marawi if the MILF would intervene.

Trade Catholic priest

A source who went with the emissaries said Abdullah Maute, one of the leaders of the Maute gunmen, also told the group that he was willing to trade a Catholic priest he was holding for his parents and relatives who had been captured by the authorities.

Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, vicar general of Marawi, was seized by the terrorists together with about 200 civilians as they laid siege
to the city on May 23 to establish an IS enclave in Southeast Asia.

The government on Tuesday rejected negotiations with the terrorists.

No negotiations with gov’t

The terrorists did not want to negotiate with the government, either, preferring representation by the MILF.

But Iqbal said the MILF had never been officially involved in the search for a resolution to the Marawi conflict.

Rescuing trapped civilians

Iqbal said his group was involved only in rescuing civilians trapped in the fighting through the Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Center of the MILF and the government.

The government and the MILF signed a peace agreement in 2014, and were working out a law that would establish a homeland for the Moros in Mindanao.

Cooperation

They have a long history of cooperation, including the expulsion of suspected terrorists from various rebel strongholds in Mindanao in 2005 and the rescue of high-profile kidnap victims, among them Irish missionary priest Michael Sinnott, in 2009.

Iqbal said getting involved in resolving the Marawi conflict would be a difficult job for the MILF.

“We know the stand of the government regarding the Maute group. We also know how the group regards the government,” he said. /atm

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TAGS: Islamic State, Marawi crisis, Maute group, Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Philippine news updates
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