Fighting with MILF stops, but tensions remain high


With Malaysian peace monitors already pulled out from Mindanao, a fragile truce holds sway in the island

By Al Jacinto, Correspondent

ZAMBOANGA CITY: Fighting ceased Friday between Muslim rebels and government troops in the southern Philippine island-province of Basilan, but tension is still high as both sides accused each other of violating a fragile truce.

“There is still tension because of the skirmishes in Basilan. We are more vigilant now than ever after soldiers attacked our forces in the province,” said Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). (ManilaTimes)

Manila is currently negotiating peace with the MILF. But the rebel group accused the Arroyo government of delaying the peace talks after negotiations were stalled last year over demands for ancestral domain.

The ancestral domain is the single most important issue in the peace negotiations before the MILF can reach a political settlement, and with the talks stalled, the hope of ending more than three decades of bloody hostilities remains dim.

Manila said the provisions of the peace agreement should be within the framework of the Constitution.

Exchanging accusations

The fighting in Basilan just off Zamboanga City was triggered by attacks on rebels working on a farm, Iqbal said. But the military accused the MILF of attacking a group of marines securing a road project in Tipo-Tipo town.

“The rebels [were the ones] who first attacked our security forces and the troops only retaliated. But the fighting is not as serious as what the MILF claimed. There are exchanges of sniper fires between our troops and the rebels and we have no reports of casualties,” said Marines Chief Gen. Mohammad Dolorfino.

The fighting erupted after Malaysia, which is brokering the peace negotiations, pulled out its truce observers last week from Mindanao because of the slow progress of the negotiations.

Iqbal said security forces also raided the house of Mike Dalem, an MILF political officer, in Buluan town in Maguindanao province in the main island of Mindanao.

“Dalem was on the mosque praying when soldiers swooped down on his house and confiscated munitions owned by the MILF,” he said.

It was not immediately known whether the raid was with a court order or not. Iqbal said the raid was illegal and violated the ceasefire agreement the government signed with the MILF.

The rebels have repeatedly warned that fighting could erupt if Malaysia pulls out its truce observers.

The Philippine military has been building up its forces in Mindanao the past weeks and the MILF fears that renewed hostilities may break out, because troops were reported massing near areas controlled by rebels in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur provinces.

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