ZAMBOANGA CITY -- The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has vowed to continue its attacks against al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf bandits operating in Sulu province.
“We are preparing for the final assault… We are gathering forces. We cannot tolerate this group,” Islamic Conference Chairman of the MNLF Habib Mujahab Hashin said in a television interview Thursday.
The decision came following the shootout between the two groups last Monday in Patikul, Sulu that left at least 28 people dead, 11 on the side of the MNLF and 17 on the Abu Sayyaf.
Eight of those killed on the side of the MNLF were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf bandits, reports said.
The Abu Sayyaf members number a few hundreds, while the MNLF has thousands of armed members in Sulu, from whence sprung this premier rebel group in Mindanao in the early 1970s.
The fighting that broke out Monday was confined to Barangays Danag, Caunayan, Dariyan and Cantila Amo.
Hashim said MNLF commanders in the province are coordinating with police and military authorities to prevent “mis-encounters” with government authorities.
Meantime, Sulu Police Provincial Director Antonio Freyra said the police will stay neutral in the fighting.
“We are confined to saving and helping civilians said to number 1,857 individuals in 349 families from these four barangays who left their homes because of the fighting,” he said.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec), for its part, does not think that the fighting will affect the conduct of elections in the province in May.
There are 19 municipalities and 410 barangays in Sulu and only a few of these are occupied by big groups of rebels. The Abu Sayyaf bandits are holdouts in the hinterlands and do not keep fixed camps.
Lawyer Vizfar Julie, Comelec provincial officer, said both the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf are not known to support candidates or politicians and thus the fighting will have no political color in it, nor will it draw politicians into the trouble.
“The fighting has nothing to do with politics,” Julie said.
On the actual fighting itself, Hashim said although they had hesitated to attack the Abu Sayyaf, the MNLF cannot anymore tolerate the criminal activities of the extremist group.
The MNLF led by Nur Misuari signed a peace agreement with the government then under President Fidel Ramos in September 2, 1996. The agreement “officially ended” the MNLF’s fight with the government with the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm).
The Abu Sayyaf, on the other hand, is considered an enemy of the State as it has engaged in atrocities, ambuscades, kidnappings, extortion and other criminal activities in Mindanao.
The Abu Sayyaf is still holding about a dozen kidnap victims to include Australian Warren Rodwell, Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani, Japanese treasure hunter Mamaito Katayama, an engineer of the local airport and some other victims from parts of the peninsula or even from Zamboanga City. (PNA)