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Peace Advocates Urge Military To Wait For Report On Recent Clash


July 25 2007

Missioners and civic groups say that planned military offensives against rebels who recently clashed with marines should wait for independent monitors to report on the incident.

Peace Advocates Zamboanga (PAZ), Silsilah Dialogue Institute (SDI) and Movement for Better Zamboanga (MBZ) made this plea in a release issued on July 24. They also urged people to "cooperate and assist the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) in the conduct of their investigation so that the truth will surface and the culprits will be brought to justice."

CCCH, which is implementing the cease-fire between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is investigating the clash on July 10 between MILF rebels and Philippine marines, who reportedly were searching for Father Giancarlo Bossi.

Armed men kidnapped the Italian missioner, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), from his parish in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, north of Zamboanga City, on June 10 and freed him on July 19.

PAZ, SDI and MBZ members met at the Jesuits´ Ateneo de Zamboanga University July 23 to discuss responses to planned military action against MILF rebels.

The rebels´ clash with marines took place in Tipo-Tipo, a town in Basilan province, south of Zamboanga. According to military reports, 10 of the 14 bodies of marines recovered after that fighting were found beheaded.

At the press conference at which the advocates´ statement was distributed, Attorney Arsenio Gonzalez, MBZ´s vice president, acknowledged "someone has to answer for the beheadings," which he said violated "rules of engagement."

However, Jesuit Father Antonio Moreno, president of Ateneo de Zamboanga University and MBZ´s president, advised the marines and the rebels on Basilan Island to stay "cool."

"Why not let the investigators do their job before taking any military or punitive action?" he asked.

PIME Father Sebastiano D´Ambra, president of SDI, said PIME has yet to reflect on the violence and crisis resulting from the search for his confrere, but everyone should work "to win peace and not any battle," such as those about to start between the military and rebels in Basilan.

In their statement, the peace advocates also expressed "grave concern for the safety and security of innocent civilians and non-combatants who are in danger of being caught in the ensuing military operations."

General Hermogenes Esperon, chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), told reporters in Manila on July 23 that he had given the Western Mindanao Command the "go-signal to conduct selective offensives" against the rebels in Basilan.

Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Baccaro, AFP´s information chief, also reported that AFP has sent 5,000 marines and army soldiers to Basilan to conduct "punitive actions" against the MILF following the expiry of a deadline he set for its leaders to turn over rebels responsible for the ambush.

AFP officials on July 23 filed criminal charges at the Department of Justice office in Zamboanga City against a group of about 50 rebels, saying the military had identified the rebels involved in the July 10 ambush.

MILF admits to clashing with the marines who, it claims, entered its area without "coordination." However, MILF refuses responsibility for the beheadings on grounds that such actions are against Islamic teachings.

Meanwhile, the social welfare office of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), to which Basilan belongs, says at least 5,000 people in Al-Barka villages near Tipo-Tipo have left their homes anticipating violence.

MILF was created in 1977 to fight for an independent Islamic state. It signed a cease-fire agreement with the Philippine government to make way for peace negotiations. However, negotiations stalled last September over disagreement on increased territory to be placed under MILF administration, and alleged cease-fire violations.

The Silsilah movement implements programs and activities designed to promote understanding and smooth relations between Christians and Muslims in the southern Philippines, while MBZ organizes individuals in public and private service in addressing issues affecting the city.

The CCCH investigation committee is to arrive in Basilan on July 25.


(Accompanying photos available at here)