MILF orders troops to arrest Usman, other terrorists

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ordered all its base commands to arrest terrorists or criminals who enter their territory, including top local terrorist Absul Basit Usman.

Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chair for political affairs of the MILF, said combatants were reminded to observe and respect the provisions of all agreements signed under the ongoing peace process such as the ceasefire mechanism and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group.

"All base commands were given directives by the MILF's Central Committee to interdict criminalities and threats including the apprehension of Usman if he enters our territory," Jaafar said. 

The order came days after President Benigno Aquino III, in his second televised address on the Mamasapano clash, urged the MILF to surrender Usman.

In his address to the nation on February 6, Aquino said, “Kung nasa loob siya ng inyong teritoryo o nasa ilalim siya ng pangangalaga ng sinuman sa inyo, inaasahan kong isusuko ninyo siya sa mga awtoridad. Kung hindi, ay gawin ang lahat upang tumulong sa pagdakip sa kanya. At kung hindi pa rin maaari ito, ay huwag makialam sa aming pag-uusig kay Usman.”

(If he remains within your territory, or is protected by one of your members, we expect you to surrender him to the authorities. If not, we expect you to do everything you can to help capture him. And if even this is not possible, do not interfere with our pursuit of Usman.)

Magsilbi sana itong babala at paalala: Huhulihin namin si Usman, anuman ang maging desisyon ninyo, sino man ang kumukupkop sa kanya, at saan man siya nagtatago. Walang dapat magduda: Magkatuwang ang adhikain natin para sa kapayapaan at katarungan,” the President added. (May this serve as a warning and a reminder: We will get Usman, whatever you decide, regardless of who provides a safe haven for him, regardless of where he may be hiding. Let no one doubt: We are partners in pursuing peace and justice.)

Rappler earlier reported that the government and the MILF were engaged in backchannel talks in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash. What is being negotiated is the possible return of the police weapons seized by MILF rebels during the January 25 operation.

Escaped?

Usman, a suspected bomb-maker with alleged links to the Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf, has a $1-million bounty for his arrest, courtesy of the US government.

Police and military sources claimed that Usman was allegedly in the same area when top JI terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, was killed on January 25 in a bloody clash with Moro rebels in Mamasapano. (READ: Timeline: Mamasapano clash)

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the DNA samples from Marwan matched those of his brother who is detained in the US.

On June 10, 2014, an operation was launched in Barangay Libutan, Mamasapano, to capture Usman, who was supposed to have detonated an IED in Datu Unsay Ampatuan on June 6 that year that killed a soldier and injured 3 others.

Two  suspects were killed while 4 others were arrested in that operation, while troops recovered an IED, a 50-caliber sniper rifle and a van.

It was later disclosed that the target in the operation was Usman and that among those who were arrested was his wife. The military said then that Usman was hurt but was able to escape while his wife was eventually released.

Regarding the latest incident in Mamasapano, Jaafar stressed that Marwan was not killed in an MILF camp, noting that Mamasapano plays host to various groups including rebels and private armies.

"Just like everyone, we have heard reports that Marwan is in Mindanao but no one can establish accurately his location. In the first place, Marwan was not killed inside our camp. They can easily say that he was inside our territory. But that is not the case unless they consider the entire Mamasapano as our territory. In Mamasapano, there are soldiers, police and MILF," Jaafar said. 

Peace mechanisms

The peace process between the Aquino government and the MILF established mechanisms that would create a space for dialogue and safety for all forces including the GRP-MILF Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in July 18, 1997 and the creation of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) on May 6, 2002.

The Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities prohibits provocative acts such as providing assistance or sanctuary to criminal or lawless elements and the massive deployment or movement of government and MILF forces “which are not normal administrative functions and activities”.

The AHJAG was formed so that both parties can work in tandem to pursue and apprehend criminal elements in the area.

What happens now?

"It will now depend on the decision of the peace panels of the government and the MILF. But we assure the public of our full commitment to the peace process. We will wholeheartedly abide by the provisions of all the signed agreements," Jaafar said. 

Jaafar acknowledged that some troops have expressed apprehension over the fate of the peace process. "We cannot deny that there are commanders and political leaders who think that the implementation of the agreement is slow. And they have the right to have that feeling because this negotiation has been going for more than 17 years," Jaafar said. 

Jaafar said these commanders and leaders feel that the process has already dragged for a long time. 

To avoid confusion and agitation, the MILF has been explaining the issue to commanders and leaders at the community level, according to Jaafar.

"That is the reason why we always conduct assemblies and consultations to explain and clarify their questions. And these were able to calm down the commanders," Jaafar added.

He said that the public should not worry about the MILF commanders but should instead be troubled by the statements of several politicians regarding the peace process.

"You know what is alarming? It is the actuation of some leaders who gave emotional statements which can offend and hurt the feelings of the Bangsamoro people," Jaafar said. – Rappler.com