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Philippine army calls off Abu Sayyaf assaults

Government aims to preserve peace with MILF reporter, Manila

April 17, 2013

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Government forces halted military operations against the al-Qaeda-linked insurgent group Abu Sayyaf on Wednesday, a day after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said army incursions in southwestern Basilan province were threatening the ongoing peace process.

Col. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Army’s 104th Brigade, said operations had stopped so as to avoid civilian casualties and for the sake of the ongoing peace process with the MILF rebels.

In October, the government signed a framework agreement with the MILF which paves the way for a new Islamic political entity in the southern island of Mindanao.

But yesterday the MILF’s Basilan chief, Ustaz Hamzah Sapanton, said that army operations against Abu Sayyaf had fueled public doubts over the government's sincerity.

Elite government troops assaulted an Abu Sayyaf lair in Silangkum village on Monday, leaving at least eight Abu Sayyaf men dead and three soldiers wounded.

Col. Galvez said that the Abu Sayyaf lair is about 300 ms from an MILF community.

“They mingled with the civilians so we broke contact. We cannot go after them…. We are upholding the primacy of the peace process and we do not want collateral damage,” he said.

This week’s friction between the government and MILF highlights the fragile nature of a peace process conducted with one main rebel group among a patchwork of insurgents in southern Mindanao.

Although Abu Sayyaf started out in the early 1990s by recruiting soldiers from most of the main armed groups in the south of the Philippines, the MILF has denied any links with it, despite accusations by the Philippines army.

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