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Eight killed in attacks on 11 southern Philippine towns

The face of one soldier was mangled beyond recognition before he was shot in the head

Gulf News

Manila: Four more were killed, including two tortured soldiers and two civilians, raising to eight the total number of fatalities following attacks from a renegade Muslim rebel leader on 11 towns in the southern Philippines starting Sunday, sources said on Tuesday.

The bodies of Pfc Dunhill Aragon and Pfc Henry Caunga were found on Isulan-Cotabato Highway in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on Monday. “The face of one soldier was mangled beyond recognition before he was shot in the head. The other had torture marks all over his body including hack wounds,” Lt Col Kit Teofilo, commanding officer of the 68th Infantry Battalion said in a statement on Tuesday.

The two soldiers were on a motorcycle when members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) stopped them at Shariff Aquak. They did not reach their destination, a bank in Cotabato, said Teofilo.

Found on the same road were bodies of two civilians, said Teofilo, but did not reveal their names and where they came from.

Another soldier, Sgt Sonny Estabillo of the 38th Infrantry Battalion, remained missing following his abduction by BIFF members on the same highway leading to Cotabato City, said Teofilo.

“It was a horrible crime committed by heartless individuals,” said Teofilo, referring to BIFF members and their leader, Ameril Umbrakato, a rebel who abandoned on 2010 the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group that has been holding on and off peace talks with the Philippine government since 1997.

The soldiers, toting heavy arms, continued yesterday to pursue the BIFF fighters and their abducted soldier near the towns of Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan, said Teofilo.

Earlier, a woman-civilian, a soldier, and two BIFF fighters were killed when the renegade rebels, armed with grenade launchers, high powered guns, and chainsaw attacked military detachments, police stations, and civilian villages in 11 towns on Mindanao, some of them plunged into darkness on Sunday, the military said.

Some 2,000 families in the 11 towns were displaced by the clashes.

Umbrakato launched the attacks to prevent the MILF from forging a pro-autonomy peace settlement with the Philippine government, said Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles.

Government and MILF leaders said the attacks would not affect the peace talks, adding they intend to sign a peace settlement in December 2012.

Both the government and the MILF denied Umbrakato’s claim that he has 5,000 followers.

In 2008, Umbrakato and several renegade MILF commanders attacked civilian villages in the south after the Supreme Court prevented the government and the MILF from signing a peace settlement that was to enlarge an existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with 800 Muslim-dominated conjoined villages.

The MILF was once part of the mainstream Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) which waged a separatist war that killed 150,000 in the south in the early 70s. The MILF became a faction of the MNLF in 1978.

The Philippine government and the MNLF signed a pro-autonomy peace settlement in 1996. The MILF also gave up its secessionist stance when it responded to the pro-autonomy peace initiative of the government in 1997.

Indonesia and Malaysia, both members of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) brokered the peace talks from 1992 to 1996; and from 1997 to present, respectively.