Army, MILF verifying reports of foreign terrorists' presence in Mindanao
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - August 28, 2013 - 2:05pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – Combined representatives of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are now scouring forested areas at the border of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur to validate reports about the presence of foreign terrorists, a senior Army official said.

Col. Noli Orense, commanding officer of the Army’s 603rd Brigade based in Camp Iranun at the tri-boundary of Maguindanao’s Barira, Matanog and Buldon towns, said they have, in fact, been experiencing problems contacting the joint verification team for updates on their location due to weak mobile phone and two-way radio signals.

“The mission is obviously difficult to accomplish, but the people tasked to do it are full of zeal and enthusiasm and, most importantly, are enjoying the support of local government units in the areas where they are now,” Orense told The Star.

The joint verification team is composed of members of the MILF, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces that belong to the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, which is helping oversee the enforcement of the July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the rebel group and the government.

The GPH and MILF, under the 1997 interim truce, are to mutually cooperate in the interdiction of criminal gangs and terrorists in flashpoint areas in the South to effectively forestall security problems that can affect the cordiality of the on-going peace talks.

“I’m praying for the weather to cooperate. It’s no joke trekking mountainous, forested terrains during rainy days,” Orense said.

Local officials are convinced the fact-finding mission will vindicate their assertions that there are no members of either the Al-Qaeda, or its Asian cell, the Jemaah Islamiya (JI), in Central Mindanao.

“That is the reason why we are happy with this fact-finding initiative of the government and the MILF because it is the best way to disprove, at the end of the day, the assertions by certain personalities in Metro Manila that there are foreign terrorists hiding among rebel forces in some areas in Central Mindanao,” said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.

Magudadatu said there were insinuations, by what he called 'outsiders,' that a Malaysian JI member, Marwan, is hiding somewhere in Maguindanao, being coddled by the brigand Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

“We’re not protecting this Malaysian JI member and the BIFF. It’s the bad effects of such insinuations to the economy of Maguindanao that we are so worried about. Not a single mayor in Maguindanao, from among 36 of them, has ever confirmed that there are foreign terrorists in the province,” Mangudadatu said.

The fact-finding mission was launched last August 26 with a symbolic 'kanduli,' a Moro thanksgiving rite, in the form of a boodle fight at the headquarters of the Army’s 603rd Brigade at Camp Iranun.

Orense and his staff led the sendoff rite for members of the verification team.

“We just have to give them time to accomplish their mission. Surely, the joint ceasefire committee will reveal to the public their findings,” Orense said. 

ARMED FORCES BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS CAMP IRANUN CENTRAL MINDANAO CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES COORDINATING COMMITTEE ESMAEL MANGUDADATU GENERAL CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES MAGUINDANAO ORENSE
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