Threats of more MILF attacks hound North Cotabato village PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 05 June 2013 11:48

Schools in the surroundings of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) enclave in Matalam, North Cotabato which recalcitrant forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) repeatedly attacked last month remain closed due to threats of more harassments,  local officials said.

The troubled community in Barangay Marbel in Matalam is supposedly covered by the September 2, 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the MNLF.

Local officials have accused the MILF of reneging from a May 23 low level truce with the MNLF, which the provincial government of North Cotabato helped broker to restore normalcy in the area.

The hostilities in Barangay Marbel began just before the May 13 elections when local villagers prevented MILF guerillas from outside from attending a local peace forum with their guns and in their uniforms.

The MNLF’s most senior leader in the area, Datu Dima Ambil, said the rule was imposed in compliance with the election gun ban and to prevent causing panic among villagers.

“We did not oppose their participation to the forum. We just wanted them to attend that activity without guns,” said Ambil, chairman of the MNLF’s North Cotabato revolutionary committee.

Local officials said 5,634 villagers were forced to abandon their homes when defiant MILF forces engaged MNLF members in firefights that prompted the provincial police and the Army’s 602nd Brigade to deploy peacekeeping contingents in the area.

The chairman of the largest and most politically-active MNLF group, Cotabato City Vice-Mayor Muslimin Sema, on Tuesday called on the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process to investigate on the security problem hounding Barangay Marbel, a government-recognized “peace zone.”

Sema said MNLF members in the area are vulnerable to harassments since many of them have either sold their firearms to generate additional capital for farming, or traded the weapons with farm animals to hasten their agricultural ventures.

Evacuees have confirmed that so heavy was the presence of MILF forces from nearby towns that massed around Barangay Marbel that members of the local MNLF group were forced to use their World War II vintage 60 MM mortars to prevent them from closing in.

Local officials said the beleaguered MNLF members also pounded with mortars strategic spots around Barangay Marbel after MILF rebels looted abandoned houses and established checkpoints to prevent the return of dislocated residents.

“The truth must be unraveled. The MNLF community there is covered by the September 2, 1996 final peace agreement between the government and the MNLF,” Sema said.

Sema said they are for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Marbel, with the intervention of OPAPP, to enable villagers to return and for education officials to re-open all schools in the area.

Local officials said marauding MILF gunmen from outside keep coming back, in total disregard of the interim truce initiated by the office of the North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza.

The MILF’s website, www.luwaran.com, has been attacking the Army’s 602nd Brigade for deploying a peacekeeping contingent in the area, not knowing that there were resolutions that sought military and police intervention from local communities, barangay leaders and local officials.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the military gave local authorities enough time to peacefully resolve the conflict before the 602nd Brigade responded to the clamor by evacuees for the deployment of a peacekeeping contingent in Barangay Marbel.

Sema and Ambil both said the MNLF is “not closing its doors” to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

“Our main concern, for now, is how to restore normalcy in the area for children of MNLF members there to return to their schools. Classes failed to resume last Monday and there is no guarantee the schools there can re-open soon,” Sema said.