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PIA Press Release

PGMA orders military to minimize civilian casualties in Sulu, Basilan offensive

Manila (13 August) -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered today military troops pursuing Abu Sayyaf terrorists and renegade members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Basilan and Sulu to minimize collateral damage on the civilian population, even as she sought heightened initiatives for a peaceful end to the Mindanao conflict.

In a speech during the 16th annual general assembly of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) at the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati City this morning, the President said even as she spoke, "our government forces are in a full offensive against terrorist cells in Sulu."

At the same time, the President said she issued this morning three security directives to address the current hostilities in Mindanao.

"First, keep Basilan and Sulu operations firmly in control to minimize civilian casualties with the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) help in evacuating them and respect ceasefire guidelines in close consultation with the International Monitoring Team whose mandate we should seek to be extended for it expires next month," she said.

The second presidential directive is to "hold urgent talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) under the Malaysian auspices to contain and resolve the Basilan-Sulu situation."

"Make it clear that the government has to secure its forces and areas as part of peace effort and law enforcement but will not overrun MILF areas," she said.

Thirdly, she directed those concerned to "brief the OIC committee of eight on Mindanao development underlining both the limited military operations and a continuing peace and development efforts including huge outlays in the 2007 and 2008 budget for Mindanao including Basilan and Sulu."

She also said it was necessary to harness a Bishop, Ulama conference and other religious and civil society groups for peace efforts and other civil society groups," including FPI to bring peace to Mindanao.

The President also appealed to politicians "not to exploit the peace initiatives for politics" amid calls from several lawmakers for the military to explain the alleged lapses that led to casualties among the soldiers.

The President said she had earlier ordered Philippine Army (PA) commanding Gen. Romeo Tolentino to "pitch camp in Zamboanga" and. oversee the theater of operations from the Western Mindanao Command (Wescom) headquarters.

"I am sending my army chief to the frontlines where he can be near my soldiers," she said.

Government forces have suffered heavy casualties in two separate ambuscades staged by Abu Sayyaf terrorists and renegade MILF members recently in Basilan and Sulu.

The MILF acknowledged engaging the Marines in the Basilan clash, claiming that the soldiers entered their territory without the proper coordination in violation of a ceasefire agreement. They denied, however, beheading 10 of the 14 fallen Marines.

On the issue of the ticklish ancestral domain, the President said: "And if it would not adversely affect the Philippine negotiating position and provoke alarm among Christians, a pilot implementation of the envisioned Muslim ancestral domain regime should be undertaken to demonstrate our sincerity to achieve peace."

"We've declared ancestral domain among indigenous peoples and I don't see why anybody should be scared if there is ancestral domain with our Muslim people," she said.

The President has announced the holding of the first peace and security summit in Bohol on Aug. 23-24 to discuss urgent concerns, including the insurgency problem. (OPS) [top]

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