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Bisaya Bloggers » Maj. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer

Mar 15 2007

FACE OFF. Philippine Army Major General Nehemias Pajarito, left, and Moro Islamic Liberation Front deputy chief Mohagher Iqbal. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

PAGADIAN CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 15 Mar) – The Philippine military pulled out its commander of army in central Mindanao and assigned him to head security forces in the Zamboanga Peninsula on the western part of the troubled region.

Major General Nehemias Pajarito, chief of the 6th Infantry Division, has been ordered to head the First Infantry Division in Pulacan town in Zamboanga del Sur province, his spokesman Lt. Col. Julieto Ando said.

“The change in command is a normal routine in the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he told the Mindanao Examiner by phone from the army headquarters in Awang town in Maguindanao province.

Major General Raymundo Ferrer, the current commander of the First Infantry Division, would take over as new chief of the 6th Infantry Division.

The sudden change in army leaderships in Mindanao came barely a week after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, accused Pajarito of attacking rebel forces despite a six-year old cease-fire agreement.

Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF chief peace negotiator, on Monday told the Mindanao Examiner that he was informed by the government peace panel that Pajarito would be replaced by Ferrer.

“I was told that General Pajarito would be replaced. Pajarito is the cause of all these troubles and fighting in Mindanao the past months,” he said.

Pajarito could not be reached for comment, but he is one of the most decorated commanders in the southern Philippines and has been largely credited by civilians for keeping the peace in the troubled region.

Ferrer confirmed the report and said he would assume as new commander of the 6th Infantry Division on Friday. “We swapped positions and I am the new 6th Division commander,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

Fighting the past months in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces have killed and wounded dozens of people.

The MILF blamed Pajarito for the skirmishes and warned the continued fighting threatens the peace talks.

Iqbal accused government soldiers of attacking rebel forces the past months, breaking a 2001 truce agreement. The attacks killed and wounded scores of rebels and drove thousands of Muslim villagers fleeing their homes, he said.

“The fighting and the continued attack of government forces are now threatening the cease-fire agreement. It is now under threat and in danger of collapsing unless the government acts swiftly to save the peace process,” Iqbal said.

But Ando blamed the rebels, saying, they were attacking government troops and detachments without provocation.

“We are not the problem. The rebels are attacking us and the MILF violated the cease-fire agreement many times in the past,” he said.

Iqbal accused the 6th Infantry Division of derailing the peace talks.

“Troops are encroaching in our areas and government planes were bombing our positions and we cannot do anything, but defend ourselves and our people,” Iqbal said.

He said clashes were also reported in the provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan.

Government troops, backed by helicopters and war planes, were attacking MILF forces, in the guise of pursuing Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants.

Iqbal said soldiers also killed two Muslim civilians – a grandmother Taute Taha and teenager Rasul Balat – in Maguindanao’s Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.

President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks with the MILF in 2001 and signed a cease-fire agreement, but despite the truce fighting still continues with the two sides accusing each other of breaking the accord.

Last week, MILF and military forces seized more than two dozens soldiers and rebels from both sides after a near firefight in Lumba Bayabao town in Lanao del Sur province.

All the hostages were freed three hours later after a tense negotiation between senior rebel and military commanders.

Arroyo on Monday met with top officials of the Cabinet Cluster on National Security in Manila to discuss the worsening situation in Mindanao.

Arroyo she decided to step up all measures to enforce the law, preserve the atmosphere of peace and stability, and advance the ongoing peace talks.

She ordered the Department of National Defense and the AFP to review and amend the current guidelines on the “Primacy of the Peace Process” and strictly adhere to the cease-fire accord without impairing the operational flexibility and quick response of the AFP in countering threats of terrorism, insurgency and criminality.

“All commanders in the field are enjoined to be constantly aware of the strategic implications of tactical actions in the proximity of MILF areas. I have also ordered restraint in the use of artillery and aerial bombing in the conduct of military operations,” Arroyo said.

MILF chieftain Murad Ebrahim on Wednesday praised Arroyo for her assurance to pursue the peace process. «The MILF remains optimistic on the peace negotiations,» Murad said and pledged to reciprocate the government’s peace gesture.

The MILF is the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-rule in Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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