KIDAPAWAN CITY -- A top commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) denied involvement in series of cattle rustling in a village in Tulunan, North Cotabato which led to the armed engagements in the area since May 25.
Commander Abner Maniba of the 109th base command of the MILF, in a radio interview, said his organization prohibits members to engage in illegal activities, including cattle rustling.
"If cattle rustling did exist in those villages, our organization is not involved in it. The Quran says anybody who steals, his hand would be cut," Maniba said.
For Maniba, the fighting started a week ago when a group of armed Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) members arrived at Camp Bunawan of the 109th base command and started shooting a certain Tatang Manding they caught tending to his farm at Barangay Barko-Barko in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat.
Maniba said the conflict area is located at the tri-boundary of Datu Paglas, Maguindanao; Columbio, Sultan Kudarat; and Tulunan, North Cotabato, which the MILF claimed as part of their territory.
"I was told Tatang Manding suffered injuries. When his relatives knew about the attack they ran after the armed men," Maniba said.
He admitted their "defensive" forces stationed at Camp Bunawan also came to the rescue.
"We had to protect our territory. We fought with the BPATs. But that was when the armed men entered our territory," he said.
Maniba hinted the armed BPATs from Barangay Maybula, Tulunan just used the issue on cattle rustling to again push their claims over the wide hectares of lands along the tri-boundary – land titles of which were allegedly issued to Moro villagers since 1960s.
Maniba said the lands are also being claimed by Christian settlers, who arrived at the place at the height of the Martial Law in the 70s.
"When the Moro and the Christian settlers presented the documents in one of the peace negotiations held in the past, we found out that their land titles were issued only in 2008, while the Moro settlers showed their titles dated 1960s," Maniba added.
On Monday, Tulunan Mayor Lani Candolada led the Municipal Peace and Order Council (MPOC) meeting held at the municipal hall where they discussed measures to end the armed fighting.
Foreign observers from Indonesia and Brunei who are members of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) were among those that attended the MPOC meeting.
Candolada said the IMT members told the MPOC that they are interested if there were ceasefire violations since the conflict area is considered an MILF territory.
Candolada said the armed fighting, which started Saturday, stemmed from series of cattle rustling activities in the area.
Citing data from the PNP-Tulunan showed that since April, the mayor said there were at least seven cattle rustling cases recorded in Barangay Maybula.
The fighting resulted to the displacement of 68 families from four sitios in Barangay Maybula and nearby Barangay Kanebong, both in Tulunan town.
Forces from the Army's 57th IB and Tulunan police were already deployed in the area to secure the evacuees.