Philippine forces, rebels sign truce after killing 10 in battle

MANILA, PHILIPPINES—Filipino forces strike a ceasefire with Muslim guerrillas after clashes in a southern village left 10 militants dead, to prevent an escalation that could threaten a major peace deal. Desperate efforts were made.

Sporadic clashes erupted on Tuesday and Wednesday in the village of Uritan in the island’s Basilan province, and emergency talks arranged by government and rebel mediators took place late Thursday between the army and the rebel commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. led to an indefinite ceasefire agreement.

Three soldiers were killed and 15 injured in the clashes, said Lieutenant Colonel Abdurasad Sirajan, a military spokesman for the region. Dan Asnawi, a former rebel commander, told the Associated Press that at least seven militants were killed and six wounded.

The conflict has highlighted the fragility of law and order in the southern region in the face of loose firearms, private armies, overwhelming poverty and a long history of violence.

Government and rebel mediators “were able to stop the fighting through dialogue between the two sides,” said regional military commander Gen. Brig. Arturo Rojas. “It was an unfortunate event as there were casualties on both sides.”

Military and rebel commanders at the scene of the fighting accused each other of violating the 2014 peace agreement, sparking years of bloody and large-scale fighting between government forces and Islamist rebels. has been alleviated. nation.

Under a 2014 peace deal, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front dropped separatist demands in exchange for a stronger and well-funded Muslim autonomous region called Bangsamoro.

The Islamic Region, which consists of five provinces, including Basilan, is now led by a former guerrilla leader under a transitional period ending in 2025.

A military crackdown on an armed extortion group in Basilan in September 2018 forced Muslim rebels and their families from Uritan village.

Rebel weapons could only be stored in mutually designated Muslim rebel encampments and did not include the civilian village of Uritan, thus violating the peace agreement, military officials said. Stated. Rebels accused some soldiers of looting their homes, but the military denied the allegations, and the argument sparked clashes.

Under the ceasefire agreement, Muslim rebels and their families will be allowed to return to Uritan village, but only while awaiting “decommissioning” (a subtle term for giving up firearms in exchange for a livelihood package). Limit the use of firearms at home. peace agreement.

In a statement, Rojas said a security detachment staffed by the military, police and rebels would be set up in Uritan village to keep out “outlaws”.

Nearly half of the approximately 40,000 guerrillas agreed to ditch their guns and return to normal life under the peace treaty. Holding firearms while waiting to receive. The process has been delayed amid complaints that former rebels have not received the cash and other incentives promised by the government.

In the clashes this week, Bangsamoro Islamic Region Interior Minister Naguib Sinalimbo and other officials expressed concern that the violence could escalate and called on opposing sides to stand up.

Western governments have welcomed progress in long-running peace talks between Manila and Muslim rebels, turning a major battlefield into a potential growth center in the South in recent years. Country.

If decades of Muslim insurgency continue to escalate in the southern Philippines, large numbers of Muslim rebels could form alliances with external militants and turn the south into a hotbed of extremism. I was worried there would be.

Jim Gomez

Associated Press