Air strikes target northern Philippines rebels
Rights groups criticize rare use of missiles
Members of the New People's Army attend a ceremoy in 2010 (AFP)
Human rights groups on Monday condemned air strikes on communist rebels carried out by the Philippine Air Force in the northern town of Sagada, Mountain Province.
The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance said the helicopter missile strike was the second in the region this year and had caused "psychological and emotional stress" in the community.
The attack on Friday came after a police unit engaged in a gun battle with the New People’s Army in the village of Agid in Sagada.
Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, head of the provincial police force, said two policemen had been hurt by sniper fire on Thursday.
The airstrikes began Friday morning and continued until mid-afternoon on Saturday. The incident affected the hinterland towns of Sagada, Besao, Sadanga and Bontoc, home to the Fidelisan, Dallic and Bontoc tribes.
Superintendent Davy Vicente Limmong, spokesperson for the Philippine National Police in the Cordillera Administrative Region, said there was "no collateral damage" in the attacks.
Jay Del Rosario, vice-chairperson of Karatula, a group of artists in the area, said however that the air strike violates Sagada’s status as a peace zone.
The town was declared a peace zone by activists, local government officials, Church people, and tribal elders in the 1990s to prevent military clashes in the area. Firearms are not allowed inside areas declared as peace zones.
"[The recent incident] breeds the kind of culture that disregards lives in place of a political agenda," Del Rosario said.
He said that although the military was targeting a rebel camp, "civilians could clearly see the helicopters circling around northern Sagada and bullets being sprayed near watersheds and villages."
Del Rosario said the air strikes only showed "the desperation to get rid of rebels without addressing any legitimate concerns posed by groups with regard to their basic rights."
The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, in a statement, urged security forces to refrain from harming civilians and their properties.
"The security of the people was endangered with their manner of operations," it added.
Peace groups and rights advocates today called for the resumption of peace talks between the government and the communist-led National Democratic Front, an umbrella organization that includes the NPA.
Peace talks have been stalled for nearly two years, with the rebels demanding the release of their consultants to the process and the government saying it will only return to negotiations if all insurgent attacks cease.
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