Government –insurgent standoff in Philippines
The already shaky peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) took a turn for the worse on Tuesday when the rebel group stood firm on its decision to give shelter to Dan Asnawi, one of its commanders being pursued by state troops, and Malaca?ang vowed to get him at all cost.
Asnawi, the head of the 14th Base Command, is the second highest MILF leader in Basilan. He is wanted for kidnappings and terrorism and was tagged as behind the killing of 19 soldiers during a firefight last month in Basilan’s Al-Barka town, a known rebel stronghold.
The soldiers, many of them undergoing scuba diving training in Zamboanga City, were sent to arrest Asnawi as part of their test mission, but fighting erupted after they entered a rebel territory in Al-Barka.
“We will not surrender Asnawi based on accusations by authorities. We have to follow a mechanism set by the peace panels, otherwise it will violate the ceasefire agreement,” said Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s deputy chairman for political affairs.
But Malaca?ang said that it is the MILF that is violating the ceasefire agreement by giving refuge to a wanted criminal.
The Palace warned that government troops “will do their job” if the MILF refuses to surrender Asnawi.
Deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said that Malaca?ang is monitoring developments in Basilan where soldiers have been going after Asnawi and Long Malat, a leader of kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf Group.
“The government position is very clear. We are pursuing these lawless elements and we are aware that some groups or individuals are protecting them and that we will go after them also. That is forbidden in the existing ceasefire agreement – giving protection to these fugitives,” Valte told a radio interview.
“We have made it clear from the very beginning, from the onset that we are pursuing not the MILF but the lawless elements. Either they cooperate or they stand aside and let our law enforcers do their jobs,” she added.
Manila is currently negotiating peace with the MILF. The rebel group accused the military of violating the ceasefire when it ordered the arrest of Asnawi.
Authorities said that Asnawi was involved in kidnappings for ransom and killings in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. He was arrested in the past, but escaped from the provincial jail after rebel forces stormed the facility and rescued him.