MILF LEADERS IN HIDING TO EVADE ARREST FOR DAVAO BLAST
Davao City, March 8, 2003 -- Leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have gone into hiding to evade arrest after the government filed charges linking them to the Davao airport bomb blast that killed 23 people.
"For our safety, for everybody's safety, we have relocated," MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told reporters in telephone interviews. "This will complicate matters more because the government can no longer have backdoor mediations with us."
He denied the MILF was involved in recent bomb attacks, and shrugged off threats to charge the MILF leaders, saying previous charges had always been dropped.
Prosecutors have said they have a document confirming that an alleged MILF member carried the bomb that killed him and 22 others. Kabalu however said the document was a fake and accused the military of black propaganda against the MILF.
Regional military chief Lieutenant General Narciso Abaya said a joint police-military task force was ready to arrest the MILF leaders but warned of retaliatory attacks.
If officers try to arrest the MILF leaders, "we expect there will be additional terrorism but we will respond to the terrorism. We will stop the terrorists from further harming the people," Abaya said.
The likely targets for arrest are MILF leader Salamat Hashim, political chief Ghazali Jaafar, military chief Al Haj Murad and Kabalu.
Police also blamed the MILF for a motorbike bomb that went off outside a church-run school in nearby Tacurong town on Friday, killing the bomber and wounding at least two schoolgirls.
Despite the arrest threat, Mohaqher Iqbal, a spokesman of the MILF central committee, said Manila could still contact them through the Malaysian government which was due to host formal peace talks between the two sides later this year.
Salamat was believed residing in the Buliok complex until it was overrun. Murad is in Malaysia while Jaafar and Kabalu were in the Cotabato City area.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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