MNLF faction slams hostage-taking
A FACTION of the Moro National Liberation Front on Monday condemned the group’s founder, Nur Misuari, for launching attacks in Zamboanga City and using civilians as human shields.
“We are against attacks on civilian areas. Zamboanga City is a civilian area and it is against our guidelines to take hostages,” said Habib Mujahab Hashim, chairman of the MNLF Islamic Command Council.
The council, which operates under the faction led by MNLF chairman Muslimin Sema, urged their erstwhile comrades to release their hostages, who had nothing to do with Misuari’s conflict with the government.
Hashim also urged the hostage takers not to cast a shadow on the tripartite conference to review the MNLF’s 1996 peace agreement with the government set for Sept. 16-17 in Jakarta, Indonesia.
MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said the attacks on Zamboanga City were “unnecessary.”
“It only complicates the situation instead of helping solve the problems of the Moro people,” Jaafar said.
Jaafar said the MILF would act only to secure innocent civilians.
The local government of Zamboanga City said about 220 civilians were held hostage by the armed men under Misuari’s command, but it was not clear if they were merely stranded in the barangays that were overrun by the rebels.
“He (Misuari) is responsible for the action of his men, the MNLF under him… We oppose [this attack]. I wanted to get in touch with for days, but he couldn’t be reach. It seems like he is hiding. I don’t know if he is in the country or abroad,” Hashim added.
Hashim said they too were surprised why Misuari had chosen Zamboanga City to bring his armed followers.
“I think it is connected to his declaration of independence last Aug. 12 in Sulu. What is shocking is that Zamboanga City is a peaceful area and isn’t even part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao,” Hashim said.
He added that Misuari might have chosen the city for its impact.
Hashim said they had monitored the movements of Misuari’s followers over the last several days.
“There were reports of troop movements but we could not confirm them. We were caught by surprise by their attack on Zamboanga City,” he said.
In Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, the military said they had monitored the movements of Misuari’s men in the last three days.
“We received [word] from Task Force Zamboanga and the Western Mindanao Command [that] MNLF forces had gone into Zamboanga City unarmed,” said Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, public affairs head of the military.
Zagala, however, did not say where the rebels got their high-powered firearms.
Zagala said the rebels came from Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Sur and perhaps from Sulu as well.
“So last night troops [were] deployed all over Zamboanga City most specifically in the [barangays of] Riohondo area, Sta. Barbara, Talon-Talon and Marique upon information that a group of armed MNLF would be arriving,” he said.
Members of the Naval Special Operations Group were deployed in Riohondo, where they encountered MNLF fighters at about 1:45 a.m. Monday.
The firefight at sea lasted about 10 minutes. “Unfortunately, one member of the Special Operations Group [was killed] and six [others] were wounded,” he said.
At about 4 a.m., Zagala said soldiers from Task Force Zamboanga led by Col. Andreilino Colina had already cordoned off the area of Sta. Barbara, Talon-Talon and Riohondo, resulting in a standoff.
Zagala said troops on the ground were verifying reports that two civilians were killed by the MNLF rebels in Barangay Sta. Catalina.
The Sulu Sultanate on Monday called on the tripartite committee of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to intervene in the ongoing conflict to protect civilians caught in the crossfire.
Abraham Idjirani, spokesman of Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, said the OIC-Peace Committee for the Southern Philippines chaired by Indonesia should come in to prevent any more bloodshed.
He also urged the OIC to call on the MNLF faction led by Misuari and the Philippine government to declare a ceasefire to prevent a spillover of the conflict to other areas in Mindanao.
Idjirani added that the Aquino administration should realize that the MNLF felt left out by a peace agreement that it is forging with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which started as a breakaway group from the MNLF.
The sultanate, which launched its own attacks to reclaim Sabah from Malaysia, said it did not support Misuari’s use of violence in Zamboanga City.
Monday’s attack was not the first launched by the Misuari faction of the MNLF.
In 2001, Misuari led 600 rebels in attacking a military camp in Barangay Busbus, Jolo, Sulu that resulted in the death of more than 100 people.
Misuari, then the governor of the ARMM, said the attack was meant to stop the elections there because the government had not consulted him on the process.
In the aftermath of the attack, Misuari fled to Malaysia to avoid arrest after the government filed criminal charges against him.
On Nov. 24, 2001, Malaysian police arrested Misuari and six followers in Sabah in an area that was suspected of being an MNLF training camp. With Joyce Pangco Pañares and Ferdinand Fabella
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