7 government troops die in Zambo Sibugay attack

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Friday, October 21, 2011

ZAMBOANGA CITY (5th update, 4:27 p.m.) -- Seven government troops were killed in separate attacks by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Zamboanga Sibugay province, Thursday night.

Western Mindanao police director Elpedio De Asis said MILF rebels waylaid a joint police and military mobile patrol around 11:15 p.m. in Barangay Sibol, Kabasalan town.

The attack killed three policemen and wounded two, including a soldier. Fatalities were identified as Police Inspector Rizaldy Calibugar, Senior Police Officer (PO) 1 Lito Arcenal and PO2 Lito Tayan.


Wounded were PO1 Joel Capitania and Private First Class Hermes Sagario of the Army's 53rd Infantry Battalion.

Earlier Thursday, alleged MILF rebels killed four government soldiers in an attack. The clash between the government troops and Moro rebels took place around 7:12 p.m. at Gulayon village in Alicia town, military said.

The troops from the 102nd Infantry Brigade were on their way back to the brigade headquarters in Sanito village in Ipil town, when MILF gunmen waylaid them.

The incident resulted in the death of Master Sergeant Saidale Dimasar, Technical Sergeant Jin-nurain Ajijul and Corporal Reynaldo Salazar, and wounding of six others. Another soldier Sergeant Antonio Gerangue was reported missing.

On Tuesday, the MILF clashed with government forces in Sitio Bakisong, Cambug village, Al-Barka town in Basilan.

The firefight killed 25 combatants -- 19 soldiers and six rebels.

Troops from the Army's 13th and 19th Special Forces Company were investigating reports of rebel incursions in the area when they encountered the rebels.

MILF spokesman Von al Haq said the attacks were the initiative of local rebel forces in retaliation for the Army's alleged "indiscriminate shelling" of Muslim villages Saturday and Thursday, which prompted hundreds of villagers to seek shelter in homes of relatives in nearby communities.

He added the rebel "leadership is working very hard to prevent this from escalating" and ordered their fighters "to stay put."

President Benigno Aquino III has called his military commanders to a meeting later Friday to discuss why the Army suffered so much.

Aquino refused to order an all-out offensive against the rebels amid a clamor from the military and some officials for tougher government action.

"Are we advocating 'let's go all out war' and that redounds to an improvement in the situation? We should learn, nobody benefits in war," he said Thursday.

The 11,000-strong MILF has waged a bloody insurgency for self-rule in the southern Mindanao region, the homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people and stunted development of the resource-rich Mindanao region.

Malaysian-brokered peace talks between the rebels and the government received a major boost in August when President Aquino met rebel chairman Al Haj Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo to bolster the negotiations.

The rebels, however, rejected a government proposal for Muslim autonomy when talks resumed a few weeks later in Malaysia but they said they will continue with the talks.

Lay down arms for Mindanao's sake

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III called on the MILF Friday to heed Mindanao's desire for peace and lay down their arms.

The senator, who is from Cagayan de Oro City, said in a press statement that "senseless violence and killings must stop. That is the wish of our Muslim brothers and sisters and everyone in Mindanao."

A temporary ceasefire is in place and the government peace panel has been meeting with the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in recent months.

"It is time for them, I think, to go the route of peace instead of armed struggle in their search for a just resolution of their grievances," Pimentel said.

He said he did not expect the MILF to surrender, adding their "just grievances should be addressed by the government."

"Political negotiations should continue, but perhaps with ironclad guarantees that both sides should refrain from violence under any circumstances, to prevent a repetition of armed clashes that undermine the peace process," he said.

Pimentel said the MILF could take a cue from nationalist group Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna (Basque Homeland and Freedom, ETA) in the Basque Country straddling France and Spain, which announced early Friday that it would lay down its arms after fighting for independence since the 1960s.

"The war in Muslim Mindanao has already led to so much violence and bloodshed for over four decades," he said.

Earlier Friday, Senator Panfilo Lacson told reporters that President Aquino III should "do an Erap," referring to former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada's "all-out" war against the MILF in 2000.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines captured Camp Abubakar, the MILF's headquarters and training camp, but around 985,000 lost their homes in the fighting.

The government is still trying to find new homes for many of those displaced in the fighting, as well as in fighting in 2008 after signing of a proposed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain failed to push through. (With VR/AP/Jonathan de Santos/Sunnex)

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