PHILIPPINES: Manila's 'anti-terrorist' war targets MILF

Issue 

BY NICK SOUDAKOFF

On February 9, "terms of reference" for the "Balikatan" US-Philippines war "exercises" were agreed on by US and Philippines military officials. The 660 US troops, including 120 US special forces commandos, will be allowed to "observe" combat operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) aimed at destroying the terrorist Abu Sayyaf organisation on Basilan Island in the southern Philippines.

Critics of the joint US-Philippines military operations charge that their real target is the national liberation struggle of the Moro (Muslim) people in Mindanao.

Even before the Balikatan exercises had begun, the AFP broadened its military offensive in the region. The AFP has accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main Moro national liberation organisation in Mindanao, of being involved in "terrorist" activities.

Despite Philippines President Gloria Arroyo's public denials that the government wants to target the MILF in its "war on terror", the AFP has accused the MILF's military units of harbouring Abu Sayyaf terrorists and supporting them in battle. The MILF denies the charges and has repeatedly condemned Abu Sayyaf and its tactics.

AFP units, supposedly "pursuing Abu Sayyaf" terrorists, have been involved in two major clashes with MILF combatants on Basilan Island, leaving two rebels dead and six AFP soldiers injured. On February 13, an AFP offensive in central Mindanao overran a MILF camp in Sultan Kudarat.

The AFP has also accused the MILF of abducting Korean businessman Jae Keon Yoon on February 6 in central Mindanao and of "coddling" the Pentagon Gang, bandits who have been involved in a spate of kidnappings throughout Mindanao.

Also in the central Mindanao region in Lanao del Sur in early February, nine US soldiers were reported by the Bangsamoro Islamic News Agency to have been seen in the company of AFP troops stationed there. BINA reported that the US soldiers examined the former MILF frontline positions and conferred with local AFP commanders before returning to Cagayan de Oro City.

The most serious attempt to justify a new offensive against the MILF concerns the arrest by Philippines police of Fathur Rohman al Ghozi, an Indonesian explosives expert and member of the Malaysian Islamist organisation Jemaah Islamiah.

Police interrogators claim that al Ghozi admitted to planning the December 30, 2000, bombings in Manila in which dozens were killed and injured. Al Ghozi reportedly trained with the MILF in 1997 and has links with Muklis Yunos, the commander of the MILF special operations team. This is being used by police to claim the MILF was not only responsible for the December 30 bombings but also has links with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organisation.

From Green Left Weekly, February 20, 2002.

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