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Coordinated MNLF attack shows Misuari’s hand, says Philippine military
Publication Date : 01-10-2013
The separate but coordinated moves of five rebel commanders from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction led by Nur Misuari betrayed Misuari’s hand in the deadly attack on Zamboanga City, the military said on Monday.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said two MNLF commanders from Basilan, two from Zamboanga Sibugay and one from Sulu were involved in the attack on the city on September 9.
Zagala identified the commanders as Ugong, who surrendered; Iger Misuari, who was captured; and Ismael Dasta and Haider, who were killed in gun battles with state security forces.
Ugong and Dasta are from Basilan while Iger Misuari and Haider are from Zamboanga Sibugay.
The whereabouts of the fifth commander, Habier Malik, who is from Sulu and is believed to have been killed, remains unknown.
“[Malik] is not the overall commander. He just made himself available to the media,” Zagala said.
The commanders and about 400 followers of Misuari stormed the Zamboanga coast at dawn on September 9 to seize City Hall and plant the flag of an “independent Bangsamoro Republik” there.
Unknown to them, the government discovered their plan three days earlier.
When they landed on the coast, Army, Navy, Marine, Scout Ranger and elite police troops blocked them, sparking fire fights that spread to the villages.
To thwart a military assault, the rebels seized scores of villagers and used them as human shields, forcing the confrontation to drag on for three weeks.
“I believe that these commanders did not act individually in going there,” Zagala said.
“How can you come here organised, arriving at the same time from different areas—Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay?” he said.
Zagala said he did not believe Malik was the leader of the five MNLF commanders.
“I don’t think Malik can order these other four commanders to do this. We should look at the higher authority who brought them, who ordered them to go to Zamboanga City,” he said.
“There is someone higher and I believe he is Nur Misuari,” Zagala said.
Misuari has not surfaced since the crisis began.
President Aquino, who flew into Zamboanga City on September 13 to oversee the military operation to crush the rebels, said on September 22 that the government would bring charges against Misuari.
A week later, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Misuari would be prosecuted along with his captured followers for rebellion and for violating international humanitarian laws that prohibit the taking of civilian hostages for use as human shields.
Zagala said authorities were trying to determine whether Malik was really dead.
Troops found Malik’s MNLF identification card on the body of a slain rebel who resembled him, sparking speculation that he might have been killed.
But Zagala said on Sunday that it was too early to confirm Malik’s death, as forensic examinations were still being carried out.
Another military official, however, said the slain rebel was Malik’s aide, who also kept his international driver’s license and temporary residence certificate in Saudi Arabia, where the rebel commander once lived with his wife. The official, who was involved in efforts to identify the slain rebels, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
On Monday, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima said the body was not Malik’s.
“We found out from the people who have the ID that it is not Habier Malik. So right now we are looking for him. We are trying to identify him among the dead or [we are looking for] where he might have been buried,” Purisima told reporters.
The Inquirer received information on Sunday that Malik had slipped through the military blockade on the coast and was already in Kanmindos village in Luuk town, Sulu province.
Malik reportedly had wounds in the neck and a leg and was under the care of the mayor of Luuk.
But former Rep. Munir Arbison said the information was false, as his brother, Allayon, is the mayor of Luuk and Malik is an enemy of his family.
Arbison said Malik attacked Luuk during the May midterm elections, killing many of his family’s followers.
Security forces killed seven more MNLF rebels on Saturday and Sunday in gun battles on the coastal outskirts of the city they were clearing of bodies, unexploded bombs, weapons and possible booby traps.
Army troops and elite police forces killed a rebel in Rio Hondo village late Saturday and six other insurgents who were hiding in a house in Santa Barbara village Sunday and who refused to surrender, Zagala said.
Troops recovered seven assault rifles and a grenade launcher used by the slain rebels, he said.
Defence and military officials declared the rebel standoff and hostage crisis over on Saturday, saying 195 villagers seized by the rebels as human shields had been rescued safely, escaped or were freed.
More than 4,000 soldiers and police killed 190 MNLF rebels in three weeks of fighting, while 292 other insurgents were either captured or surrendered out of exhaustion and after running out of food and ammunition.
Twenty-three soldiers and policemen were killed and 180 were wounded in gun battles with the rebels.
Twelve civilians were killed and 118,819 villagers fled their homes as the rebels torched villages to slow down the military advance.
“Definitely the worst is over,” Zagala said, but added that it would be dangerous for residents to return until government forces have finished a two-week inspection of the battered villages.
He said there were still rebel holdouts who were hiding or trying to escape.
But the holdouts were low on ammunition and troops and police were going after them, Zagala said.
Chief Insp. Ariel Huesca, spokesman for the police in Western Mindanao, said on Sunday that there were reports that one of the captured rebels had claimed another rebel in custody was Malik’s son, and the authorities were verifying the information.
“We are checking the claim of this MNLF member. He claimed that one of those who had been captured was the son of Malik, but we are not taking his word for it,” Huesca said.
Mindanao observes a day of prayer Tuesday for peace in Zamboanga City, and Catholic bishops are asking the whole nation to join by lighting candles in their homes at 6pm.
“Let us join. Mindanao bishops are calling for a whole day of prayer, fasting and candle-lighting for peace [Tuesday],” Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas called on Catholics on Monday. “Let us unite. [There is] no peace without God.”
Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said the day of prayer would be observed in silence.
“There will be no speeches or statements, [just] prayer in silence,” Valles said.—With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy in Manila; Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao; and AP