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Mar 07 2007

COTABATO CITY (Mindanao Examiner / 07 Mar) – The Suara Bangsamoro party list group on Wednesday condemned military operation against Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the southern Philippines, saying, Muslim villagers have been affected by the skirmishes.

Abubakar Uy, the group’s secretary general in southern Mindanao, said the military offensive have put the lives of villagers in grave danger. «The brutal military operations have forced hundreds of Moro families to evacuate from their homes and farmlands,” Uy told the Mindanao Examiner.

The MILF said hundreds of villagers have fled their homes in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province after fighting broke out between military and rebel forces late Monday.

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division said at least 26 rebels had been killed in the fighting, but only 17 bodies were recovered. One soldier was also slain and two others wounded in the clashes. Latex Lingerie

“At least 26 rebels are killed in the fighting, but there could be more casualties. The rebels retreated and took their dead, but we have recovered 17 of the corpses,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Julieto Ando said in a separate interview.

Zaynab Ampatuan, the party list’s 1st nominee, blamed the military for the sufferings of many Muslim villagers in North Cotabato.

The military denied the allegations and put the blame to MILF, which it said has been attacking government soldiers in the area.

“But time and again, military troops have been violating this truce as relentless militarization have been happening in North Cotabato resulting to human rights violations against the civilian, mostly Moro populace,” Ampatuan said.

Eid Kabalu, the MILF spokesman, said the fighting had stopped, but tension is still running high because of the presence of government troops in the two villages.

Kabalu said 19 rebels and 52 soldiers were killed in the fighting, but Ando disputed the figure of military casualties. “That’s MILF propaganda,” Ando said, adding, only 1 soldier was slain and four more injured in the fighting.

“Rebel forces killed at least 52 government soldiers and it is up to the military whether to admit it or not,” Kabalu said.

Both rebels and military commanders accused each other of violating a fragile six-year old truce.
President Gloria Arroyo opened up peace talks in 2001 with the MILF, which is fighting for self-rule in Mindanao. However, despite the cease-fire agreement, sporadic clashes still continue between troops and rebels.

Malaysia is brokering peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF, but negotiations ended last year in Kuala Lumpur with both sides failing to sign any agreement on the most contentious issue — ancestral domain.

Ancestral domain refers to the rebel demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the rebel group can reach a political settlement.

The ancestral domain covers the whole of Muslim autonomous region and other areas in Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces where there are large communities of Muslims and indigenous tribes. And even Palawan Island in central Philippines.

Government peace negotiators previously offered the MILF the Muslim autonomous region, which is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which are among the poorest in the country torn by strife and clan wars since its creation in 1989. The MILF rejected the offer, saying, it would not settle for anything less than total Muslim control over those areas. (Mindanao Examiner)

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