Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Emissaries to defuse tensions in Sulu

From Business World (Feb 6): Emissaries to defuse tensions in Sulu

Leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as well as the provincial government of Sulu have sent emissaries to the town of Patikul to defuse the tension between MNLF fighters and members of the Abu Sayyaf following hostilities since Sunday that have left more than 20 people dead.

Habib Mujahab Hashim, a senior member of the MNLF’s central committee and chairman of the group’s Islamic Command Council, told BusinessWorld informal communications have been held to prevent further bloodshed.

The attempt to achieve a ceasefire followed a reported plan of MNLF commander Habier Malik, who led an attack against the bandits on Sunday, to mount another assault to avenge the mutilation of rebels killed during the fire fight, Mr. Hashim said.

At least eight confirmed MNLF fighters were killed, three of them beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf which reportedly suffered 14 casualties.

There is no word from MNLF commanders on the field yesterday if they will heed the central committee’s appeal.

Mr. Hashim said the central committee understands the "high level of anger" among its men, saying that the beheading of fighters was unacceptable.

"To be killed in a fire fight is acceptable, but beheading the dead is another matter," he said.

"We are continuing to appeal to our brothers on the ground to postpone their assault plan just for the sake of freeing the kidnapped victim," Mr. Hashim said, referring to the pressure of the MNLF against the Abu Sayyaf to release Jordanian journalist Baker Abdulla Atyani, who has been held captive for more than eight months now.

Mr. Atyani’s two Filipino television crew members were released on Saturday. Aside from Mr. Atyani, the Abu Sayyaf is still holding at least five hostages, including two European bird watchers who were abducted in Sulu’s neighboring island-province of Tawi-Tawi last year.

Mr. Hashim said the group’s central committee is also trying to contact MNLF founder and chairman Nur Misuari for an order to stop violence in the area.

The conflict stemmed from Mr. Misuari’s visit last month to Sulu for a meeting with his followers in Panamao. In the agenda of the meeting was cleansing the area of lawless elements.

Mr. Misuari, who is currently abroad, has been going around Mindanao as part of efforts to make his presence felt. He is running for governor in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the May 13 midterm elections.

Meanwhile, Sonny Y. Abing III, Sulu provincial information officer, said in a separate interview that Sulu Governor Abdusakur M. Tan is negotiating with the MNLF commanders, and that assistance has been provided to the more than 400 affected families displaced by the hostilities.

"They are now in the evacuation centers in Jolo," he said.

For his part, Rodrigo T. Gregorio, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said government troops are prepared to contain the conflict around the town of Patikul, which is adjacent to the capital town of Jolo.

"We have deployed forces around Patikul to prevent spillover [of violence] in other areas. As much as possible we want to contain the problem," he said.

But MNLF officials said they will pursue the Abu Sayyaf, which has splintered into smaller groups, and have possibly slipped outside the Patikul area.

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