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PIA Press Release

PGMA orders gov't forces to clear barangays of breakaway MILF members in 24 hours

Manila (13 August) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered government forces to clear the 12 barangays in North Cotabato of breakaway forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 24 hours, starting Wednesday.

Philippine National Police (PNP) Director-General Avelino Razon announced the President's directive following the National Security Council-Cabinet Group meeting yesterday afternoon in Malacanang.

The President convened the meeting to discuss various issues involving the Mindanao situation, particularly government efforts to dislodge the MILF renegade forces who continue to occupy the 12 barangays.

Razon said that the President also directed all concerned government agencies to step up relief operations in the 37 evacuation centers set up for the thousands of families displaced by the MILF occupation.

He said the International Monitoring Team and the International Red Cross will step up relief operations for the civilian victims of the fighting in North Cotabato starting tomorrow.

Fourteen of the 26 barangays illegally occupied by the MILF rebels have already been recovered by government forces, Razon said.

"Bring back to normalcy the lives of the affected families, especially in the areas of health and education," Razon quoted the President as saying.

He said that although the number of refugees seeking shelter in the evacuation centers has started to dwindle, there are still about 81,613 of them housed in the 37 evacuation centers.

Many more are staying with relatives in neighboring areas, he added.

"Starting tomorrow, the Defense Secretary assured that displaced families would be brought back to their homes and farms," Razon said.

The PNP chief said government is gathering evidence against Commander Umbra Katu of the MILF 105th Division in preparation for the filing of appropriate charges against him and his followers.

Umbra Katu heads the breakaway MILF group that took over the 18 barangays.

Possible charges against Umbra Katu's group include arson, destruction of plantations, looting of properties and cattle rustling.

"We will go through the peace process mechanism by getting the assistance of the MILF leadership so this breakaway group will be made to account" for their criminal activities, Razon said.

"I think we chose the right path. The peace process is holding," he added. (PIA-MMIO) [top]

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