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Secession still option, MNLF says

By Francisco Tuyay | Jul. 31, 2013 at 12:03am
Denies Palace claim Misuari dropped plan

The Nur Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberation Front on Tuesday debunked the Palace’s claim that the rebel group had backed off from its earlier plan to declare independence for Mindanao.

Trouble in Maguindanao. Armored personnel carriers block a highway laden with two improvised explosive devices (left) planted by rebels from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Guindulungan town in Maguindanao province. At right, troops patrol the same highway after BIFF rebels fired on an oil tanker and planted the explosive devices. AFP Trouble in Maguindanao. Armored personnel carriers block a highway laden with two improvised explosive devices (left) planted by rebels from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Guindulungan town in Maguindanao province. At right, troops patrol the same highway after BIFF rebels fired on an oil tanker and planted the explosive devices. AFP

“It did not change. If ever we will know,” said MNLF Peace Panel Chair Rev. Absalom Cerveza when asked for his reaction on reports that Misuari had a change of heart and had abandoned his secession plans.

The MNLF’s belligerence, coupled with the continuing attacks by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, had put the government in a bind against two contending forces.

On Tuesday, the military reported that eight suspected members of the BIFF Fighters were killed in day-long fierce fighting with government troops in a remote village near a major road in Maguindanao.

Cerveza’s denial came on the heels of a statement released by the Palace,  which said that Misuari’s change of heart was relayed by no less than Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Mujiv Hataman.

“I believe Gov. Hataman has already spoken with Chairman Misuari and there has been, shall we say, a withdrawal of the earlier pronouncements that the MNLF will renew their claim for independence,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

She also reiterated the government’s appeal to Misuari to give the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro - signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in October last year - a chance.

Misuari had threatened to lead his group in declaring independence for Mindanao if the government terminates the 1996 final peace agreement.

But the Palace had clarified that what the government seeks is the termination of the tripartite review mechanism which is being brokered by the OIC and not the 1996 final peace agreement.

But Misuari took exception to an explanatory note sent by the Palace to the OIC seeking the group’s acknowledgement that the MNLF “was no longer the sole representative of the Bangsamoro.”

On Monday, however, representatives of the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation who attended an assembly called by Misuari, were able to convince the MNLF founding chairman to “temporarily” hold off his plans of declaring independence for Mindanao.

Cerveza said that assuming that the government and Misuari had talked, “it does not mean that Misuari was abandoning his plan. Nothing has changed.”

Cerveza, however, admitted that there are still some loose ends in the final plan for the declaration of independence.

He added that Misuari is in Jolo and was finalizing the structures related to the declaration of independence, which would include leadership issues, cessation of hostilities, consolidation of forces and negotiated actions.

In fact, Cerveza revealed that the OIC has already been notified of the MNLF’s plan of action.

Meanwhile, Army’s 6th Infantry Division Commander Major Gen. Romeo Gapuz said that aside from the eight BIFF who were killed, five others were wounded in the firefight that ensued after the rebels strafed a passing Petron oil tanker along Sitio Bagan, Guindolongan, Maguindanao at around 4 a.m.

Gapuz said the bodies of the slain BIFF rebels were carried by their fellow rebels who had retreated  after being pursued by government troops.

Col. Dixon Hermoso, 6th IB Spokesman earlier reported that three BIFF rebels were killed when army troopers from the 68th Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. Oliveros chanced upon the rebels.

The rebels tried to escape the troopers, but were intercepted by an blocking force belonging to the 45th Infantry Battalion led by Col. Hongitan.

The stretch of the highway was temporary closed to motorists due to the running battle.

Government troops recovered two firearms, two improvised explosives and a handheld radio from the slain rebels. The  government did not suffer any casualty.

The encounter came a day after BIFF rebels attacked a Civilian Volunteers Organization outpost at the boundary of Midsayap, North Cotabato and Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

In Malacanang, Valte said that steps are being undertaken to ensure that the peace process with the MILF would not be jeopardized by the ongoing clashes between the military and the BIFF.

The BIFF, an armed group which led by former MILF Ameril Umbra Kato that broke away from the MILF, has threatened to detonate bombs along the highway linking General Santos City and Cotabato.

“We remain hopeful that the peace process with the MILF will not be affected,” Valte said.

She also urged the BIFF to keep an open mind on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro which the government and the MILF signed in October last year. With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Florante Solmerin
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