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Government expresses concern over MILF infighting

MANILA, Philippines - The government expressed concern over the raging clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and its breakaway group that left at least six people dead and forced over 200 families to flee their homes in Datu Piang, Maguindanao yesterday.

“We are monitoring the situation as well as the response of the MILF’s central committee to resolve the conflict. Civilians that have been displaced are now under the protection of the Army. The Armed Forces have taken positions so as to prevent this conflict among the members of the MILF from spilling over to other communities,’’ government peace panel chairman Marvic Leonen told reporters.

“We expect the leadership of the MILF to assert discipline among its troops. Otherwise, the peace process will be affected,’’ Leonen said.

Fighting raged between the groups of Commander Adzmie of the MILF 106th Base Command and Commander Abunawas of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Four MILF militants and two belonging to the Abunawas faction were killed in the fresh encounter.

Reports said both groups suffered an undetermined number of wounded personnel.

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Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the military would focus on helping the civilians displaced by the MILF feud.

“Yes, it is a concern for the Philippine panel. Dean (Marvic) Leonen has already expressed that to the MILF peace panel on this situation, and hopefully they will be able to resolve it internally,” Lacierda said.

Malacañang is mum on whether the postponement of elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is linked to the peace negotiations with the MILF, which is seeking a sub-state within the same geographical area covered by ARMM.

Lacierda said the proposal would be discussed during the talks on Aug. 22 to 24 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“But sometime in October last year or this year, (MILF) chairman (Al Haj) Murad (Ebrahim) expressed his support for the postponement of the ARMM elections,” he said.

He added the government would want to be of help to the Bangsamoro people and “we certainly don’t want them to self-destruct.’’

The MILF earlier said that the Bangsamoro people should be allowed to run their own affairs.

Selective disarmament and continuing infighting among Muslim groups in several areas of Mindanao are among the key points that will be raised by the government peace panel with the MILF in their upcoming meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

A source privy to the negotiations said that aside from “rido,” a tradition being practiced by Muslims to settle violent family disputes, the government also wants the hundreds of thousands of loose firearms now in the hands of civilians in Mindanao to be accounted for.

“These are the key two issues that the (government) peace panel first wanted to resolve because these concerns could directly affect and undermine the peace talks,” the source said.

The government peace panel will be flying to Kuala Lumpur to submit the government’s counter-proposal to their MILF counterparts who have already submitted their own proposal calling for the creation of a Muslim sub-state in Mindanao instead of a separate state.

Meanwhile, former President Joseph Estrada expressed hope that the Aquino government’s efforts to ink a lasting peace with the MILF would yield positive results.

In a telephone interview with The STAR, Estrada also said that the government should implement a minimum of three months and a maximum of six months timetable in peace negotiations.

“Let’s hope he (Aquino) will be successful. No foreigners should interfere in our country’s peace problem. This is our internal problem, so it has to be solved by the Philippine government,” he said.

Estrada said he does not want to give unsolicited advice to President Aquino.

The former president said if the negotiations yield negative results within the three- to six-month period, then the government can use all its forces to defend its territorial integrity.

He said he decided to launch an all-out war against the MILF during his term as the MILF sought to “dismember” the Philippine territory.

“It is the duty of the President to protect the territorial integrity of the Republic of the Philippines at all cost. There must be one flag, one Republic of the Philippines and one government,” Estrada stressed.

Opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives expressed suspicion that President Aquino gave concessions to the MILF when he met with its leader in Tokyo last week.

House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said the secret meeting displayed Aquino’s “impulsiveness’’ as he could not resist trumpeting the meeting to the entire world.

“The President betrayed his impulsiveness and lack of preparations by bringing along, not veteran diplomats or security experts or seasoned negotiators, but secretaries of finance and budget,” Suarez said.  – With Jaime Laude, Jose Rodel Clapano, Paolo Romero, Evelyn Macairan

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