Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Manila Military Warns Of ‘All-Out War’ On Militants

The Philippine military warned it could launch an “all-out war” against Islamic militants if they did not surrender those behind an ambush last week in which 14 marines were killed, and 10 later beheaded. Military chief General Hermogenes Esperon said troops on the ground had been told to exercise restraint, but “an all-out war” to flush out the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members behind last week’s ambush remained an option. “They have admitted that the ambush was perpetrated by them so they must now bring out the offenders. I mean, those who beheaded our Marines,” Esperon told reporters as he visited the wake for the slain troops. “Otherwise, all options are open,” Esperon said, alluding to a massive crackdown on MILF forces on Basilan island, where the Marines were killed last week as they searched for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi. “All-out war is one of the alternatives, but it could be the last resort,” he said. Esperon said troops had pinpointed the general area where Bossi, 57, was being held and were close to rescuing him. He declined to give further details so as not to jeopardise the operations. Bossi was seized by heavily armed men near his church in the Zamboanga peninsula on June 10. The MILF has denied it was involved in the abduction, but the military said Bossi was spotted in an area controlled by the group in Basilan.Philippines President Gloria Arroyo last week ordered troops to hunt down the attackers, and said that if the MILF were involved they must surrender their men. However, she said peace negotiations with the 12,000-strong MILF would continue despite the debacle. The MILF had accused the troops of instigating last week’s violence, saying that the Marines entered their area without prior notice as called for under a ceasefire agreement forcing them to attack. The MILF has also called on international human rights groups to investigate the firefight that left the 14 marines dead. An official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) denied that their forces were behind the beheading and mutilation of 10 of the 14 marines slain on July 10 in Tipo-Tipo town in Basilan province, 900m south of Manila. Mohamed Ameen, head of the MILF secretariat, said one of their comrades, Imam Alkanul, who was seized by the soldiers a few hours before the fighting broke out, was also found dead with slashed throat and hack wounds on his back. “The extent of barbarity to the dead marines and to Imam Alkanul must be investigated by an international body so that whoever were responsible must answer to their crimes,” he said. “We (MILF) are willing to face any investigation especially by international human rights groups,” said Musawwarin Abubakar, leader of the MILF forces in Basilan. “Only Hitler’s manic personality would do such a dastardly act and we condemn this beheadings in the strongest terms possible,” he added. The military and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have condemned the beheading and mutilation of the 10 slain marines, and have urged the MILF to turn over members who might be involved in the gruesome killing. Arroyo has also asked the MILF to stand down and allow the military to hunt down the perpetrators of the killing. The military has already dispatched additional troops to Basilan in preparation for more offensives. Armed forces chief of staff General Hermogenes Esperon said the military was conducting its own probe on the incident. “They (MILF) admitted that the ambush was perpetrated by them so they must now bring out the offenders, those who beheaded our marines,” he said. The military was also conducting a separate investigation into the misfiring and non-firing of mortars used by the marines during the Tipo-Tipo fighting. A television cameraman, who was with the marines during the firefight, was able to shoot video footages of the fighting that showed some marines attempting to fire their 81mm mortars, but to no avail. Esperon has already ordered the recall of all 81mm mortars acquired from the US military. Each mortar costs between $134 and 150.