Monday, May 17, 2021

MNLF camp dismantled in Tawi-Tawi, residents accuse ex-rebels of extortion

SECURITY FORCES dismantled an illegal camp of former Moro National Liberation Front or MNLF rebels in Mapun town in Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines, officials said.

Lt. Gen. Corleto Vinluan, Jr., chief of the Western Mindanao Command, said the camps were all illegal. “The establishment of unregistered camps of the Moro National Liberation Front is strictly prohibited,” he said.

Vinluan said the camp in the village of Duhol Bato was dismantled Sunday, saying it was not even recognized by the military.

He said a similar camp in the village of Lakit-lakit in the capital town of Bongao was also dismantled in March and another camp in Saluag village in Sitangkai town in April.

Vinluan said residents of Mapun town also accused the MNLF group of extorting money from them. “Mapun residents previously reported that the MNLF group of Damli Akip was conducting extortion activities in the area. However, through a dialogue with the MNLF group and in coordination with the local government, the illicit activities were stopped,” he said.

It was unknown whether the police or military filed charges of extortion against Akip’s group, but Vinluan said the former rebels were “further reminded to avoid doing things that might violate the peace agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the MNLF.

MNLF chieftain Nur Misuari did not release any statement on the continuing violations of his followers of the September 1996 peace accord with Manila.

In March, security forces also pre-empted a supposed gathering of MNLF members in Zamboanga City following reports by civilians and village officials in Pamucutan. The former rebels were supposed to gather for the MNLF’s 53rd anniversary celebration. 

Hundreds of supporters of Misuari attacked Zamboanga in September 2013 after declaring independence and their failed attempt to raise the (MNLF) Bangsamoro Republik flag at City Hall. Misuari publicly denied involvement in the siege that displaced over 200,000 people and affected the economies of Basilan and Sulu which are dependent on Zamboanga for their trades and goods.

In 2016, Mayor Beng Climaco banned any so-called peace rally or gathering of MNLF members in Zamboanga City. She said such rallies may disturb Zamboanga anew and the  destruction wrought by the 2013 siege continues to linger, as internally displaced persons – both Muslims, Christians and Lumads, most of whom are those who eluded the conflicts in Sulu and Basilan – have suffered the brunt of the MNLF attack.

Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, he became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the peace accord, Misuari said there was widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.

Under the peace agreement, Manila would have to provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.

It was the second attack by MNLF in the past decade. In November 2001, hundreds of MNLF members occupied the Cabatangan Complex and held hostage dozens of civilians, including children; and another group also attacked a military base in Sulu province in an effort to stop the elections in the Muslim autonomous region after Misuari was ousted as governor.

More than 100 people were killed in the fighting and in the end, then Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat allowed the attackers to leave Zamboanga in exchange for the hostages. 

Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, where he had been arrested and deported to the Philippines and was eventually pardoned and released by President Gloria Arroyo in 2004. He also ran several times for governor in Sulu even while under detention, but lost. Now, President Rodrigo Duterte said he wanted to resume the peace process with Misuari and ordered police and military not to arrest the MNLF chieftain. (Mindanao Examiner)

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