AFP CONTAINS KATO'S FIGHTERS; ALLIANCE HOLDS - MNLF

HE military on Sunday admitted that renegade rebels from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were still a constant threat to civilian communities in Maguindanao despite the military victories over the group in five days of intense fighting that left 53 dead and 49 wounded. In a statement, Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman of the Armed Forces, said the military had successfully restricted the movements of BIFF rebels and prevented the spread of violence to nearby areas. “However, many of BIFF’s members have standing warrants of arrest and their prolonged evasion will pose threats in communities where the BIFF is contained,” Zagala said. Until they are arrested, he said, the rebels continue to be a threat to peace and stability in Maguindanao and neighboring provinces, he added.

ALSO: Military declares end of offensive vs BIFF

The military yesterday officially terminated its operations against the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), saying the offensives have significantly reduced the capability of the rebels to launch attacks in central Mindanao. However, there are no indications that BIFF leader Ameril Umbra Kato was killed or captured during the weeklong operation. The military also admitted that the success of the campaign, dubbed “Operation Darkhorse,” was not an assurance the BIFF has been totally defeated. The offensive against the BIFF started last Monday and was supposed to end after two days. Security forces, however, requested for a three-day extension that ended last Saturday to allow them to enter more BIFF lairs. “The military officially terminates ‘Operation Darkhorse’ as of Feb. 2, 2014 after its request for a three-day (72-hour) extension was granted by the Joint Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

ALSO: Five injured in attack on Zamboanga church

Five people were injured Sunday when motorcycle-riding men hurled a grenade into a church in the troubled southern Philippines in a city known for Muslim rebel activity, officials said. One of two men on the motorcycle threw the grenade into the Roman Catholic church in a suburb of the city of Zamboanga just as a group of senior citizens were meeting there, police and district officials said. Four senior citizens and one passer-by were injured, said district chief Jodifer Arquiza. “It (the motive) is unlikely to be personal. What can they get from these senior citizens? Perhaps this is a message,” he told reporters. The local police chief, Chief Inspector Felixberto Martinez, said they were pursuing all possible leads but could not give a motive for the attack. The bombing came days after troops elsewhere in Mindanao island launched a major operation against a breakaway Muslim rebel group opposed to peace talks with the main Muslim rebel organization, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

ALSO: Maguindanao blast: TV crew injured

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Twelve people, including two journalists from Manila, were injured in two explosions in Maguindanao province on Saturday as thousands of civilians displaced by nearly a week of clashes between government forces and hardline Moro rebels appealed to both sides to cease fighting. A reporter and a cameraman from TV5 were among at least six civilians hurt by an improvised explosive device that exploded in Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said. Six soldiers were also wounded in the explosion, Gapuz said. Gapuz said the soldiers were on a security patrol and were traveling on the highway at 6:30 a.m. when a roadside bomb exploded, flattening the tires of their armored personnel carrier.

ALSO: MNLF eyes ‘Kosovo-style’ campaign

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has warned it will carry out what it calls a “Kosovo style” struggle to “decolonize” southern Mindanao and some parts of Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak. MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari called on his followers to renounce armed struggle and adopt the Kosovar model by carrying out peaceful assemblies in attaining their political objective for self rule, spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said yesterday. Fontanilla was referring to the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence where participants unanimously declared Kosovo as independent from Serbia. Although the legality of the declaration was disputed by Serbia, several countries recognized it. Fontanilla said Serbia sought international validation and support for its stance that the declaration was illegal, but the International Court of Justice said the declaration did not violate international law. “Armed struggle is already obsolete as proven in other countries. We will bring our cause to the people,” Fontanilla said. He said their struggle is now on the second phase after Misuari declared the independence of the Bangsa Moro Republik in Sulu in last year.


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AFP CONTAINS KATO'S FIGHTERS; ALLIANCE HOLDS - MNLF

Fighting ends; BIFF regroups


Soldiers salute the national flag that they raised in the BIFF camp after its capture. AFP

MAGUINDANAO, FEBRUARY 3,
2014
(MANILA STANDARD) By Francisco Tuyay - AFP contains Kato’s fighters; alliance holds—MNLF

THE military on Sunday admitted that renegade rebels from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were still a constant threat to civilian communities in Maguindanao despite the military victories over the group in five days of intense fighting that left 53 dead and 49 wounded.

In a statement, Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman of the Armed Forces, said the military had successfully restricted the movements of BIFF rebels and prevented the spread of violence to nearby areas.

“However, many of BIFF’s members have standing warrants of arrest and their prolonged evasion will pose threats in communities where the BIFF is contained,” Zagala said.

Until they are arrested, he said, the rebels continue to be a threat to peace and stability in Maguindanao and neighboring provinces, he added.

A spokesman for the BIFF questioned the military’s figures and vowed to continue its attacks against the government.

“We will continue our fight until the last drop of our blood,” said Abu Misry Mama.

A spokesman for the Moro National Liberation Front , Absalom Cerveza, added that the BIFF was just regrouping and evaluating their next option in case fighting erupts again.

“The BIFF have not lost the battle, they have just retreated for a better position,” Cerveza said.



Captured. Officers examine documents, uniforms and gadgets found inside a camp of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in a village in Maguindanao that soldiers overran on Saturday after an offensive

The MNLF faction led by its founder, Nur Misuari, and the BIFF have forged an informal tactical alliance that Cerveza said “was dictated by the exigencies.”

“The MNLF-BIFF forged a kind of friendship probably because both parties shared the same aspiration and destiny,” Cerveza said.

The military was able to capture a BIFF encampment in Barangay Ganta Shariff Saydona at the height of the fighting.

Operation Darkhorse against the BIFF was terminated Sunday with the expiration of the 72-hour extension granted by the Joint Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which are working toward a comprehensive peace agreement that the BIFF and MNLF Misuari faction oppose.

The military operation was launched last week in support of a police drive to serve arrest warrants to BIFF members, including their leader, Ameril Umra Kato, for various crimes, including kidnap for ransom and murder.

The heavy fighting forced some 9,465 families or 35,334 people to flee their homes in the towns of of Sharif Saydona, Rajah Buayan, and Datu Piang in Maguindanao and Pikit in North Cotabato.

“Having successfully neutralized the BIFF threat in these areas, it is now safe for these civilians displaced by the fighting to return to their homes and go on with their daily lives,” the Armed Forces statement said.

Sunday’s admission meant the Armed Forces was unable to make good on its vow to decimate the BIFF.


A photo contributed by the military shows child soldiers of the BIFF

Earlier, 6th Infantry Division spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said the 72-hour deadline granted to the military would enable them to wipe out the BIFF, a splinter group of the MILF.

Zagala’s statement also acknowledged that the BIFF continued to be a threat to the ongoing peace negotiations between the MILF and the government.

At the end of its five-day offensive, the military said it had neutralized “101 known BIFF personalities,” killing 52 of them and wounding 49 others.

They said they were also able to confiscate some firearms and explosives and seize four BIFF camps and a makeshift bomb-making factory in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

The military said some of the BIFF casualties were “child soldiers” aged 14 to 17.

Hermoso said a government trooper was killed and 20 others were wounded in the series of firefights that started last Monday.

Eight civilians were also injured in the crossfire, the military said.

BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama, however, disputed the figures and said they would launch more attacks against the government.

The BIFF was founded by Ameril Umbra Kato, a former MILF commander, in 2012 after the MILF booted him out for opposing the peace talks. Before he was paralyzed due to successive strokes, Kato led several attacks on civilian communities in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.

Since then the government and MILF have tagged the BIFF “spoilers of peace.” With Florante S. Solmerin

FROM PHILSTAR

Military declares end of offensive vs BIFF By Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 3, 2014 - 12:00am 1 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - The military yesterday officially terminated its operations against the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), saying the offensives have significantly reduced the capability of the rebels to launch attacks in central Mindanao.

However, there are no indications that BIFF leader Ameril Umbra Kato was killed or captured during the weeklong operation.

The military also admitted that the success of the campaign, dubbed “Operation Darkhorse,” was not an assurance the BIFF has been totally defeated.

The offensive against the BIFF started last Monday and was supposed to end after two days. Security forces, however, requested for a three-day extension that ended last Saturday to allow them to enter more BIFF lairs.

“The military officially terminates ‘Operation Darkhorse’ as of Feb. 2, 2014 after its request for a three-day (72-hour) extension was granted by the Joint Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.

The AHJAG is tasked to isolate and neutralize criminal groups in Mindanao.

Zagala said the three-day extension had allowed the military to prevent the spillover of violence and to press further into areas where the BIFF was entrenched.

“The three-day extension was crucial in applying further pressure against the BIFF, contributing to their neutralization in the areas of Cotabato and Maguindanao,” he said.

Zagala said “Operation Darkhorse” allowed the seizure of four BIFF camps and a makeshift explosives factory in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.

He said the improvised explosive devices produced in the factory were used to stage bombings in Central Mindanao.

Government troops on Saturday hoisted the Philippine flag at the biggest enclave of the BIFF in Shariff Saidona town, signaling the success of the weeklong military offensives against the outlawed group.

Troops from the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, the 1st Mechanized Brigade, and 6th Infantry Division hoisted the Philippine flag at the BIFF enclave in Barangay Ganta.

The seven-hectare camp, which housed more than 500 bandits led by Ustadz Karialan, fell at dusk on Friday, after five days of air, artillery and ground offensives.

The assault, however, resulted in 10 injured, including two journalists who came along with the troops to cover the event.

Six soldiers and two unidentified civilians were also wounded in the blast.

Troops also foiled another bombing attempt of the BIFF on a highway in Guindulungan town in Maguindanao yesterday.

Farmers at the roadside found an improvised explosive device, officials said.

“It was fortunate that people in Barangay Macasampen (in Guindulungan) discovered the improvised explosive device and reported what they found to an Army detachment nearby,” said Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

A total of 52 rebels and one soldier were killed during the weeklong assault.

Some 49 rebels and 20 soldiers were wounded in the sporadic clashes. Three of the slain BIFF rebels were minors aged 15 to 16 years old. Eight civilians were wounded and were immediately brought to local health facilities.

Where is Kato?

The weeklong military operations seem to have failed to capture Kato, the disgraced MILF commander who founded the BIFF to fight for the creation of an independent Islamic state.

“There are no reports yet,” Zagala told The STAR when asked whether Kato was among the BIFF members who were captured.

“The police, supported by the military, would still serve the warrants of arrest on BIFF personalities, including its commander Ameril Umbra Kato,” he added.

Officials are unsure as to whether they have seen the last of the BIFF, widely regarded as spoilers of the peace talks between the government and the MILF.

“We cannot categorically say that because of the operation, we have eliminated all of them,” Zagala said.

“But we have reduced their influence. The seizure of their camps was very important. They no longer have safe havens and the ability to conduct trainings,” he added.

Zagala said the military would continue to work closely with the police to prevent the BIFF from regrouping and launching new attacks.

Kato has criticized the MILF leadership for its alleged revisionist policy in abandoning its original stance of independence.

In 2008, Kato and his troops attacked civilians in various parts of Mindanao after the Supreme Court nullified the controversial Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the MILF. Authorities have offered a P10-million bounty for his arrest.

Kato reportedly suffered a mild stroke in 2011 while moving constantly to evade arrest in the remote areas sprawling Guindulungan, Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay towns in Maguindanao.

Reports about Kato’s supposed death also surfaced that year but the BIFF dismissed them as misinformation intended to mislead the public.

Displaced

Zagala said the heavy fighting between government troops and BIFF rebels caused the evacuation of 9,465 families or 35,334 individuals from the towns of Shariff Saidona, Rajah Buayan, Datu Piang all of Maguindanao and Pikit in North Cotabato

“Having successfully neutralized the BIFF threat in these areas, it is now safe for these civilians displaced by the fighting to return to their homes and go on with their daily lives,” he said.

Zagala said some communities have to be rehabilitated after sustaining heavy collateral damage.

“Having minimized if not completely eliminated the threat of the BIFF in these communities, we foresee their speedy reconstruction which will lead us to the normalization of these affected areas and eventually achieving lasting peace,” he said.

Malacañang condemned the BIFF for using child combatants against government troops.

Sen. Nancy Binay also condemned the BIFF for using child warriors.

“To use children as combatants is unacceptable and clearly a gross violation of Philippine and international humanitarian laws,” Binay said in a statement.

“The BIFF is robbing these children not only of their rights but their future as well,” she added. –John Unson, Christina Mendez

FROM THE INQUIRER

Five injured in attack on Zamboanga church Agence France-Presse 3:44 pm | Sunday, February 2nd, 2014


http://www.scmp.com/sites/default/files/styles/980w/public/2014/02/02/zamboanga.jpg?itok=6O5waU_i
Philippine soldiers in Zamboanga. Five people were injured when motorcycle-riding men hurled a grenade into a church in a suburb of the city of Zamboanga. Photo: AP

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — Five people were injured Sunday when motorcycle-riding men hurled a grenade into a church in the troubled southern Philippines in a city known for Muslim rebel activity, officials said.

One of two men on the motorcycle threw the grenade into the Roman Catholic church in a suburb of the city of Zamboanga just as a group of senior citizens were meeting there, police and district officials said.

Four senior citizens and one passer-by were injured, said district chief Jodifer Arquiza.

“It (the motive) is unlikely to be personal. What can they get from these senior citizens? Perhaps this is a message,” he told reporters.

The local police chief, Chief Inspector Felixberto Martinez, said they were pursuing all possible leads but could not give a motive for the attack.

The bombing came days after troops elsewhere in Mindanao island launched a major operation against a breakaway Muslim rebel group opposed to peace talks with the main Muslim rebel organization, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Zamboanga City was also the scene of a bloody siege in September by another Muslim armed group which feared that the peace talks with the MILF would sideline them.

More than 240 people were killed in the three weeks of fighting in Zamboanga, a city with a mixed Christian and Muslim population.

Despite the threats of violence, government and MILF negotiators on January 25 announced that they had successfully completed talks aimed at ending a decades-long Muslim insurgency that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

President Benigno Aquino recently said the government would crush “spoiler” rebels that might try to derail the peace process with the MILF.

Maguindanao blast: TV crew injured By Allan Nawal, Charlie Señase, Jeoffrey Maitem, Judy Quiros Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:17 am | Sunday, February 2nd, 2014


http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/files/2014/02/datu-saudi-ampatuan-maguindanao-blast.jpg

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Twelve people, including two journalists from Manila, were injured in two explosions in Maguindanao province on Saturday as thousands of civilians displaced by nearly a week of clashes between government forces and hardline Moro rebels appealed to both sides to cease fighting.

A reporter and a cameraman from TV5 were among at least six civilians hurt by an improvised explosive device that exploded in Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, commander of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said.

Six soldiers were also wounded in the explosion, Gapuz said.

Gapuz said the soldiers were on a security patrol and were traveling on the highway at 6:30 a.m. when a roadside bomb exploded, flattening the tires of their armored personnel carrier. No one was injured in the blast.

Journalists, who followed the soldiers in two other armored vehicles, were reporting from the site when a second roadside bomb went off, Gapuz said.

He said the blast injured TV5 reporter Jeff Caparas, his cameraman, Adrian Bulatao, four other civilians who had been following the military convoy in a tricycle and six soldiers.

“The second bomb prematurely exploded and they were hit by shrapnels along with our soldiers,” Gapuz said.

The head of TV5’s news division, Luchi Cruz-Valdez, said Bulatao’s injury was “serious,” with shrapnel wounds in his right side.

“Bulatao is in shock but conscious, in pain,” Valdez said in an SMS message.

Caparas was still on his feet despite his injury, she added.

Gapuz said three military helicopters picked up the injured and transported them to a hospital here.
“They are now safe,” he added.

TV5 said in a statement that the journalists would be flown back to Manila.

The news team had been covering days of fighting between government forces and rebels from the secessionist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group opposed to peace talks between the administration of President Aquino and the main Moro organization, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The military has said that 52 rebels and one soldier had been killed since the government launched an offensive against the BIFF early last week after government and MILF negotiators successfully concluded talks to end decades of fighting in Mindanao that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The BIFF rejected the autonomy that the MILF had accepted and vowed to continue fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao.

On Friday, the military said three of the slain rebels were child soldiers, who were buried along with the others in rites following Muslim tradition.

Malacañang on Saturday condemned the BIFF’s use of child soldiers, calling it a violation of international laws.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson for the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the military found a black flag similar to that of the international terror group al-Qaida at one site of the clashes in Datu Piang town earlier last week.

Hermoso said the flag tended to support intelligence reports that al-Qaida fighters were aiding the BIFF.

Brig. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade, on Friday identified one of the al-Qaida fighters as Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, who has a price of $5 million on his head for the 2002 bombing of two nightclubs on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 110 people, mostly Australian tourists.

Hermoso said the reported presence of Zulkifli and other foreign fighters in BIFF camps was under investigation.

The explosions on Saturday came three days after government troops captured a BIFF stronghold where the rebels made bombs and trained fighters.

The bombs are typically fashioned from unexploded mortars and rocket-propelled grenades triggered remotely by cell phones.

“That is their signature based on what we have recovered from their camp,” Hermoso said.

“They just set off bombs in civilian communities and it doesn’t matter to them who gets hit, and this is an example,” Hermoso said, referring to Saturday’s explosions that injured the two journalists and other civilians.

Abu Misri Mama, a spokesperson for the BIFF, said Saturday’s explosions were landmine attacks and three soldiers were killed.

“We do not want to harm members of the press,” Mama said, adding that military convoys were legitimate targets for the BIFF.

After Caparas and Bulatao were injured, Mama said, journalists should avoid following military convoys.

“They should know that there is an ongoing war and that military targets are legitimate targets. They should refrain from joining military convoys or riding in military vehicles,” Mama said.

The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (Minhrac) said Saturday’s explosions came just as thousands of evacuees thought they would have a respite from the violence that had sent them fleeing their homes in several towns in Maguindanao in the past six days.

The military had said it was looking to wrap up the operations against the BIFF by Saturday, but the explosions were an indication that the rebels, whose capability to inflict harm on troops and civilians the Army wanted to degrade, could still fight.

In a statement, Minhrac said the evacuees were calling on the military and the BIFF to cease fighting, as the prolonged violence was hurting their livelihood, threatening their safety and taking a toll on them psychologically.

The human rights monitoring group said residents of the villages where the military was pounding the BIFF with artillery fire and aerial strikes had become restive.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) government on Saturday gave assurance that it had enough funds to provide for the emergency needs of the evacuees.

According to the ARMM social welfare office, the fighting has displaced some 10,000 residents of Raja Buayan, Sultan sa Barongis, Datu Piang and Datu Saidona Mustapha towns.

ARMM Executive Secretary Laisa Masuhud-Alamia said several villages had become ghost towns, with entire populations fleeing to distant but safe areas where they were getting assistance from the regional government.

Alamia said the ARMM government had P47 million in assistance funds and adequate relief supplies to handle the needs of the evacuees.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman said that should the situation turn for the worse, his “special purpose” fund of about P280 million could be used to help the evacuees.

“Our concern at the moment is not lack of funds but how to end the hostilities in Maguindanao,” Hataman said. With a report from AFP

FROM PHILSTAR

MNLF eyes ‘Kosovo-style’ campaign By Perseus Echeminada (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 3, 2014 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has warned it will carry out what it calls a “Kosovo style” struggle to “decolonize” southern Mindanao and some parts of Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak.

MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari (photo) called on his followers to renounce armed struggle and adopt the Kosovar model by carrying out peaceful assemblies in attaining their political objective for self rule, spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said yesterday.

Fontanilla was referring to the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence where participants unanimously declared Kosovo as independent from Serbia.

Although the legality of the declaration was disputed by Serbia, several countries recognized it.

Fontanilla said Serbia sought international validation and support for its stance that the declaration was illegal, but the International Court of Justice said the declaration did not violate international law.

“Armed struggle is already obsolete as proven in other countries. We will bring our cause to the people,” Fontanilla said.

He said their struggle is now on the second phase after Misuari declared the independence of the Bangsa Moro Republik in Sulu in last year.

Fontanilla said the MNLF has conducted peaceful assembles in General Santos City and Davao City before hostilities broke out in Zamboanga City that eventually led to the filing of charges against Misuari and his men.

According to Fontanilla, peaceful assemblies are scheduled next month in key cities in Mindanao and Sulu. He said the result of the assemblies would form part of the documentary evidence to be submitted before the United Nations committee on decolonization.

“The MNLF is just expressing its desire to be an independent state and it will be the people who decide, it’s a war in winning the hearts and mind of the people,” he said.

Fontanilla said the MNLF is now taking the next step that will involve a series of assemblies for every province where Muslims, Christians and tribal groups will express their desire for self-rule.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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