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PIA Press Release

Gov't forces directed to ensure renegade MILF forces do not return to 15 barangays

Manila (15 August) -- Malacanang has directed the military to ensure that any attempt by the breakaway forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to return to the North Cotabato barangays they had forcibly occupied does not succeed.

In his regular midweek press briefing yesterday, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said although the last of the MILF forces had vacated the 15 barangays, the military will pursue follow-up operations to make sure that the MILF troops do not return to the beleaguered areas.

On various occasions earlier last week, the MILF forces led by Commander Umbra Kato were reported to have abandoned their position, but it all turned out their simulated departure was only part of the rebels' tactical maneuver. They did not leave the occupied areas until Wednesday.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's order to the military was to drive away the renegade MILF forces and stop them from returning to the barangays they had forcibly occupied, Ermita said.

The government, he added, will not "stand idly by without doing something to defend our hapless citizens."

He quoted Defense Chief Gilberto Teodoro Jr. as saying that combined military and police forces will stay put in the 15 affected barangays to ensure the residents' safety.

President Arroyo was informed that government forces had driven away the MILF forces from the barangays, and that military-police elements were remaining in the "liberated' areas to "give some degree of confidence to the residents that they will not be molested by the MILF renegades" again.

Reports from Teodoro, PNP Director General Avelino Razon and Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral said that the number of displaced families, which was earlier placed at 15,000, was bloated, Ermita said.

He said that the latest trouble-making in North Cotabato underscores the need for the MILF leadership to ensure that its members faithfully heed its directive and stop harassing military and police detachments as a sign of goodwill.

It is imperative, Ermita said, that the MILF manifests its interest in pursuing the peace process with the government.

"Pangalawa, to show goodwill naman and as a sign of confidence-building, sana naman ay gawin ng pamunuan ng MILF na orderan talaga iyong mga puwersa sa buong Mindanao, in this case Tipo-Tipo, Basilan, upang sa ganun ay itigil na iyong mga harassment nila ng mga isolated detachments ng pulis at saka military.

Ermita added that the AFP is also checking on Abu Sayyaf areas because renegade MILF bands are known to seek refuge in Abu Sayyaf-controlled areas to evade pursuing government forces.

"From the very beginning, alam naman natin na iyong collusion na iyan exists on the ground. That's why, I recall, the very purpose while there is part of the ceasefire mechanism na tinatawag na ADJAG - Adhoc Joint Action Group - kung saan ay titingnan ng dalawang panig na ang mga enclave, ang mga lugar na pinagkakampuhan ng MILF ay hindi nagagamit na taguan ng mga Abu Sayyaf, at iyan ay dapat rikisahin through the ADJAG." (PIA-MMIO) [top]

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