Groups Spot Offense On Military-Reds Encounter

Feb 15, 2003 12:05 PM EST

Philippines - The encounter of military troops and rebels in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat Thursday, claiming 35 guerillas, triggered an outcry from various concerned groups.

The fighting apparently spilled over as rebels were trying to take some residents of this town as hostages.

The Moro-Christian People’s Alliance (MCPA), for its part, reproached Mrs. Arroyo for ordering the offensive without regard to the civilians in the area.

The group claimed Mrs. Arroyo is reliving "(former President Joseph) Estrada’s all out war" against the rebels.

"The justification that they are out to overrun MILF camps to seize lawless elements coddled allegedly by the MILF is much too overused and won’t fool anyone," said Amirah Lidasan, MCPA secretary general.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) also said they are planning to have a dialogue with Mrs. Arroyo on the conflict.

"The situation is quite tense but we will cross the bridge when we get there. We might have a dialogue with the President," said Monsignor Hernando Coronel.

The Mindanao People’s Caucus (MPC) said government troops must pull out in the area to prevent more bloodshed. They said an "eyeball to eyeball" confrontation is easily exploited by elements of groups who want to ignite a shooting war.

Another Muslim leader, who request in anonymity, disclosed that there is a general feeling of fear and apprehension among Muslims and Christians in the region that the fighting in Pikit is part of the global war against terrorism being waged by the United States.

The Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA), on the other hand, called on all Muslims to help bring back the rebels and the government to the negotiating table.

OMA director Tahir Sinsuat Lisadan Jr. said Muslim leaders in the region should take the initiative rather than be passive observers to the conflict.

"We support the proposal of Secretary Dureza [head of government negotiating panel] that the MILF and government panel must reconvene to discuss a possible ceasefire in the area," Lidasan said.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye disclosed yesterday that the Dureza panel has already secured the concurrence of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the draft peace agreement after the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security (COCIS) has approved the draft peace pact with the MILF.

Bunye reiterated the willingness of the Arroyo administration to keep its doors open for the MILF, despite the apparent truce violations by the rebels on the May 2002 Joint Communiqué agreement to turn over criminals in their areas.

Bunye said the MILF should now take the opportunity of meeting Dureza and forge the final agreement.

By Y.Hilado, ChToday Philippines
[email protected]