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
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
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.