MILF admits ‘extremists’ waiting in the wings


BY VICTOR REYES

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front yesterday agreed with former government chief negotiator Rodolfo Garcia that failure to strike a peace accord with the secessionists might give rise to a new breed of extremists espousing jihadist activism.

“I would not call it terrorism but the observation is correct,” said MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal.

Garcia, in a forum on the Mindanao conflict Friday, said the new breed of rebels, including two renegade commanders being pursued by the military, would be a “harder group to deal with.”

Commanders Ameril Umbra Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar alias Bravo are subject of a military offensive launched last month after they attacked North Cotabato in July and Lanao del Norte.

Iqbal said the government’s failure to sign the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain has irked a number of commanders. The signing set for August 5 in Kuala Lumpur was stopped by the Supreme Court. The government has since dropped the MOA.

“The government’s non-signing, that gave them enough justification for the commanders, who are actually against the peace process, more reason to prove that their theory is correct: that the government, after all, is not a trustworthy partner in the peace process,” said Iqbal.

A number of sectors outside the MILF are opposing the MOA which would create a Muslim homeland. A number of areas proposed to be covered by the Bangsamoro homeland are questioning the constitutionality of the agreement before the Supreme Court.

Iqbal said there is nothing wrong with the word “jihad” which he said does not necessarily mean religious war.

The nearest translation in English is “utmost striving in the way of Allah and what is followed is the principle of Islam.”

“Among the Muslims, the only justification for war is when it is a defensive war. That is jihad…Jihad has no translation in English… There is no such thing as religious war in Islam,” he said.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said jihad “is actually not something that is always related to violence.”

“Jihad among our Muslim brothers and sisters refers to a cleansing, an internal cleansing of a person,” said Dureza, former presidential adviser on the peace process.

Iqbal said the acts of Kato, head of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, and Bravo of the 102nd Base Command were “merely a question of discipline.”

“They saw that the government is not abiding (by the agreements) so they have gone out of their way and, without the sanction of the MILF leadership, attacked military targets,” said Iqbal, adding government forces instigated the North Cotabato incidents when they attacked MILF rebels.

Kato’s group occupied 15 barangays in North Cotabato on July 1, long before the peace panels announced their agreement on the MOA.

Bravo’s group attacked Iligan City and four towns in Lanao del Norte on August 18.

Iqbal said this was a result of the commanders’ frustration over the non-signing of the MOA. “In the case of Lanao del Norte, it was probably started by Bravo,” he said.

The fatality figures provided by the government in the Lanao attacks are 28 civilians, three soldiers and a policeman.

Iqbal said the government’s “civilian” fatality count included militiamen who he said are considered combatants. A second type of “civilians,” he said, are victims of crossfire and “we don’t know who hit them.” The third type, he said, could not be classified and “their deaths should be looked into to determine who is responsible.”

Iqbal said Kato, Bravo and Aleem Pangalian, a third commander being pursued by the military, would abide by the provisions of a peace accord, if one is finally signed.

Iqbal said that the MILF had no problems with the three commanders “until the Philippine government did not sign (the MOA) at the last hour.”

The military belied Iqbal’s statement, saying the MILF leadership has “no control” over the three commanders.

“In the past, specially Bravo and Kato, were also involved in similar atrocities,” said Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, chief of the AFP public information office.

Bravo is still in Lanao de Norte, “hiding in a forested area,” according to Col. Benito de Leon, commanding officer of the Army’s 104th Brigade.

In Matungao town, a 25-man rebel band believed to be part of Bravo’s group clashed with government troops yesterday.

One rebel was killed in the 30-minute clash, De Leon said, belying the MILF claim that 20 soldiers died in the encounter.

De Leon said the rebel band was responsible for the failed toppling of a power line tower in Kauswagan last Friday.

President Arroyo has said the fighting in Mindanao is a temporary setback to the peace process.

Arroyo on Saturday night attended a breaking of fast with the Muslim community, or the 4th Iftar, hosted by the Libyan Embassy and the World Islamic Call Society (WICS) at the Sofitel hotel. – With Jocelyn Montemayor(Malaya)

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