65 civilians saved from rebels in S Philippines
www.chinaview.cn 2008-08-19 19:27:34   Print

    MANILA, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Military troops saved 65 people from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels who took hostage some one hundred civilians when retreating from towns they attacked in the country's southern province of Lanao del Norte, a military official said Tuesday.

    The rebels are retreating towards the hinterlands of Lanao del Norte, moving south and dragging with them some civilians used as human shields, the Philippine News Agency reported, quoting a military official named Hilario Atendido.

    Hundreds of MILF rebels headed by Abdullah Macapaar, known as Commander Bravo, staged coordinated attacks Monday some towns in Lanao del Norte, killing at least 33 civilians and three soldiers, Atendido said. Thousands have left their homes and ran to nearby cities for safety.

    The retreating rebels dragged anyone whom they met along their withdrawing path, thus delaying the movements of the advancing forces in pursuing them.

    Atendido said they could not tell how many hostages are still in the hands of the retreating MILF rebels.

    Atendido placed the strength of Bravo's command between 1,000 to 1,500 followers.

    On Tuesday, military forces were strengthened in the south in anticipation of fresh rebel attacks.

    Armed Forces chief Gen. Alexander Yano vowed in a TV interview to chase down the rebels whom he considered as out of the control of the MILF leadership.

    "If they (MILF) can't control them, the government will certainly control them and we will undertake our mandate to protect the people and the communities and we cannot renege on that constitutional mandate," he said.

    "We will pursue and take aggressive action against the perpetrators of the dastardly acts committed against innocent civilians," he added.

    MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said the rebels who attacked the towns were frustrated after the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by politicians wary of losing land and power, blocked a preliminary agreement with the rebels calling for an expanded autonomous region in Mindanao.

    Chief rebel negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said if nothing comes out of the current peace process with the government, the guerrillas will return to war. Analysts say the peace talks between the government and the rebels are at peril with the escalation of military clashes in the southern Philippines.

    The 12,000-strong rebels have been fighting for self-rule since1978, and signed a cease-fire with the government in 2003. The peace talks between the government and the rebel group have been on and off over the past years.

    Violence escalated after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraint order to stop the government and the rebels from inking an instrumental agreement on territory of the projected Muslim-dominated state, the last remaining hurdle to a final political settlement that is expected to end the insurgency in the southern Philippines.

Editor: Bi Mingxin
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