ZAMBOANGA CITY The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) will continue its attacks on the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in Sulu.
This assertion of continuous attacks by the MNLF against the ASG came following the shootout between the two groups last Monday in Patikul, Sulu that left at least 28 people dead, 11 on the side of the MNLF and 17 on the ASG.
Eight of those killed on the side of the MNLF were beheaded by the ASG.
Islamic Conference Chairman of the MNLF Habib Mujahab Hashin said we are preparing for the final assault.
In an interview over TV 11 Dateline Zamboanga aired Thursday night, Hashim said we are gathering forces. We cannot tolerate this group.
The ASG number a few hundreds while the MNLF has thousands of armed members in the Sulu Province, from whence sprung this premier rebel group in Mindanao in the early 1970s.
The fighting that broke out Monday was confined to barangays Danag, Caunayan, Dariyan and Cantila Amo.
Hashim said MNLF commanders in the province are coordinating with Police and Military authorities to prevent mis-encounters with government authorities.
Meantime, Police Provincial Director Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra said that the police will stay neutral in the fighting.
We are confined to saving and helping civilians said to number 1,857 individuals in 349 families from these four barangays who left their homes because of the fighting.
On the other hand, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) does not think that the fighting will affect the conduct of elections in the province in May .
There are 19 municipalities and 410 barangays in the provinces and only a few of these are occupied by big groups of rebels. The ASG are holdouts in the hinterlands and do not keep fixed camps.
Comelec Provincial Officer Atty. Vizfar Julie said both the MNLF and ASG are not known to support candidates or politicians and thus the fighting will have no political color in it nor will it draw politicians into the trouble.
The fighting has nothing to do with politics. Julie said.
On the actual fighting itself, the ICC Chairman of the MNLF said that although they had hesitated to attack the Abu Sayyaf, he said the MNLF cannot anymore tolerate the criminal activities of this extremist group.
The MNLF led by Nur Misuari signed a peace agreement with the government then under President Fidel Ramos in September 2, 1996. This agreement officially ended the MNLFs fight with the government with the establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM.
On the other hand, the ASG is considered an enemy of the state as it has engaged in atrocities, ambuscades, kidnappings , extortion and other criminal activities in Mindanao.
To date, the ASG is still holding about a dozen kidnap victims to include Australian Warren Rodwell, Jordanian Journalist Baker Atyani, Japanese Treasure Hunter Mamaito Katayama, an engineer of the local airport and some other victims from parts of the peninsula or even from this city. (PNA)