Monday, May 28, 2018

MILF, peace advocates seek probe into death of 9 guerrillas in anti-drug ops

From the Philippine Star (May 28): MILF, peace advocates seek probe into death of 9 guerrillas in anti-drug ops

Peace advocates want a third party probe into the deaths of nine members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in a police anti-narcotics operation in Matalam town Saturday.

Officials of the MILF, which is engaged in a peace process with MalacaƱang since the 1990s, said in separate statements Monday that the victims, who belonged to their 105th Base Command, were not involved in drug trafficking, contrary to assertions by the police.

The North Cotabato provincial police announced on Saturday that the team that raided their lair in Barangay Kilada in Matalam, North Cotabato to search for narcotics was forced to neutralize them when they opened fire.

Von Al-Haq, spokesman of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said the allegations that the nine guerrillas provoked the encounter were unfounded.

Citing their initial findings, Butch Malang, chairman of the MILF’s Committee on General Cessation of Hostilities, said the victims had all been disarmed before automatic gunfire reverberated through the scene.

“No illegal drugs were found on the spot where the alleged encounter happened,” Malang said Monday.

The Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the MILF are bound by a security accord—the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities—to cooperate in resolving security issues besetting conflict flashpoint areas in southern provinces.

Various peace advocacy organizations in central Mindanao have flooded the Facebook walls of their friends in the media community with appeals for a “third party” probe into the incident.

The alleged shootout is feared to stifle anew the bilateral peace initiatives of the government and MalacaƱang, meant to put a negotiated closure to the now five-decade Mindanao Moro problem.

Bobby Benito, a directorate staff in the Regional Reconciliation and Unification Commission-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said the real circumstances on the deaths of the nine MILF members can easily be determined with the help of probers in the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team.

The foreign peacekeeping contingent, comprised of military and police officers from Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, and civilian conflict resolution experts from Norway, the European Union and Japan, has been helping oversee since 2004 the enforcement of the now 21-year ceasefire agreement between the government and the MILF.

Malang and Al-Haq separately said Monday the MILF has called on the government’s ceasefire committee to look into the incident.

Local officials in Matalam said all the slain MILF members, Dadting Hassan, Muhamidin Hassan, Burrah Salping, Muhalidin Salping, Tiyo Mantik, Orom Mantis, Deng Malunok and Pakat Abo had all been buried in keeping with Islamic tradition of burying the dead within 24 hours from the time of death.
Army to assist ceasefire panel

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said he has directed the 602nd Brigade, which has jurisdiction over Matalam town, to help the joint government-MILF ceasefire committee investigate on the incident.

The joint committee, comprised of representatives from the MILF, the PNP and the AFP, resolves misunderstandings between state and guerrilla forces on the ground based on established security protocols.

“The 6th ID adheres to IHL (International Humanitarian Laws) and values the primacy of the peace process. We just have to give the joint ceasefire committee enough time to carry out its task of resolving that issue,” Sobejana said, referring to the incident in Matalam last Saturday.

The Palace, meanwhile, said the ceasefire panel should be allowed to do its work.

"They (MILF) already filed a formal protest. There are mechanisms and there will be an investigation," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a press briefing. "Let us wait for the results of the investigation to determine if some members of the MILF are really implicated in the drug trade," he added.

China Warns 2 American Warships in South China Sea

From the New York Times (May 27): China Warns 2 American Warships in South China Sea

China’s military announced on Sunday that it had dispatched warships to challenge two United States Navy vessels that sailed through waters in the South China Sea that China claims as its own.

The Chinese confronted the American ships and warned them to leave, the Ministry of National Defense said in a statement posted on its website, but other details of the encounter were not immediately clear.

The American vessels — the Higgins, a destroyer, and the Antietam, a cruiser — passed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, an archipelago in the northern part of the disputed waters of the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam.

The chief spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, Senior Col. Wu Qian, said that the United States “gravely violated Chinese sovereignty.”

The high-seas confrontation, while not unprecedented, came as tensions have been rising between the United States and China on a number of fronts, from trade to the on-again-off-again talks with North Korea over its nuclear program.

In recent months, China has appeared more determined to defend its claims in the South China Sea, reinforcing and arming its bases in the Paracel Islands and farther south in the Spratly Islands, even though the various islands, reefs, shoals and other outcroppings are also claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and others.

On May 18 China announced that it had for the first time landed its H-6K strategic bomber on an outpost in the Paracels, Woody Island. Earlier in the month the United States also formally protested the deployment of missiles and radar equipment on three artificial islands China has built in the Spratly Islands.

A satellite photo of Woody Island in March. CreditPlanet Labs Inc, via Reuters

American officials accused Beijing of breaking a promise the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, made in 2015 when he said China did not intend to militarize the disputed territories. In retaliation for the deployment, the Pentagon last week rescinded an invitation for China to participate in a multinational naval exercise this summer near Hawaii.
The two American warships involved on Sunday were carrying out maneuvers known as “freedom of navigation operations.” The operations, which the Obama administration curtailed somewhat but which picked up again under President Trump, are intended to exercise what the United States says are its rights under international law.

The two ships passed within 12 miles of four islands — Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody — according to an American defense official.

A spokesman for the United States Seventh Fleet, Cmdr. Clay Doss, did not discuss the details of the Chinese challenge but said that in 2017, American warships conducted similar operations in the waters of 22 different countries, including allies of the United States.

The operations “are not about any one country,” he said in a statement, “nor are they about making political statements.”

China, whose claims on the islands in the Paracel and Spratly Islands are not recognized, argues that passage within 12 nautical miles constitutes a violation of the country’s territory under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In April, Chinese ships and aircraft challenged three vessels of the Australian Navy as they traveled to port calls in Vietnam.

“The United States naval vessels Antietam and Higgins entered without Chinese government permission into territorial waters” around the islands, which China calls the Xisha Islands, Colonel Wu said in the statement.

China’s military, he said, would be “firm and unwavering in its determination to strengthen sea and air operational preparedness construction” on the islands.