Where are the other SAF firearms?
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - February 18, 2015 - 2:34pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Wednesday said it is still working on recovering other firearms of policemen killed in a deadly encounter with rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao last January 25.

The symbolic turnover of the firearms, consisting caliber 5.56 M-16 rifles, two M-203 rifles, two light machine guns and an upper part of an M-4 carbine, was held at the officers' club of the Army's 6th Infantry Division in Camp Siongco in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

The MILF's chief negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, told reporters they are still trying to locate the other firearms of the 44 members of the police's Special Action Force that perished in an encounter with local guerilla forces in three adjoining barangays in Mamasapano more than three weeks ago.

RELATED: MILF returns SAF weapons

"We are not surrendering these firearms, we are returning them," Iqbal said, referring to the rifles and machine guns their ceasefire committee turned over to government officials at Camp Siongco.

The firearms were returned in the presence of the government's chief negotiator, Miriam Coronel Ferrer, Armed Forces chief Lt. Gen. Gregorio Catapang, members of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team,  officials of the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee and Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles.

The event was also witnessed by Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Lt. Gen. Rustico Guerrero of the Western Mindanao Command, and officials of the Army's 6th Infantry Division led by Major Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan.

Iqbal declined to reveal the identities of the rebels that returned the firearms taken from the slain SAF operatives.

"That is still subject of our investigation. We are still in the process of locating the other firearms that are possibly in the hands of MILF members. We can't account for those firearms taken by other groups," Iqbal said.

In a message, Iqbal said the bloody January 25 SAF-MILF encounter in Mamasapano was an incident they had never wanted to happen.

He said the MILF cannot return the firearms which members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters took from the policemen slain in firefights with BIFF gunmen.

Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the outlawed BIFF, had earlier said they have killed 10 SAF members during the January 25 hostilities in Mamasapano and that all of their firearms were taken as "war booty."

The BIFF does not recognize the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the MILF.

The SAF men killed in the Mamasapano incident had just neutralized in a dawn raid in Barangay Inog-og in Mamasapano Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan, and were maneuvering their way out when they encountered MILF rebels and a third group, the brigand BIFF.

Iqbal said 18 MILF members were killed while 14 others were wounded in the ensuing firefights.

Iqbal declined to give a time frame on the return of other firearms that could be in the hands of MILF members.

Ferrer and Deles had both said the government and the MILF will continue with the peace process despite the Mamasapano incident.

"We believe in the correctness and propriety of the peace process," Ferrer said.

Iqbal said the MILF is also doing its best to preserve all the gains of the peace process that were achieved in 17 years of negotiations.

The head of the IMT, Malaysian Major Gen. Yaakub Samad, said the government and the MILF must continue to push the peace process forward.

The IMT, comprised of soldiers from Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Libya, and civilian conflict resolution and socio-economic experts from Norway, the European Union and Japan, has been helping enforce the GPH-MILF ceasefire accord since late 2003.

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