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Air strike hits boat, kills five kids, parents in Maguindanao

September 8, 2008 5:25pm

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Seven people were killed Monday, including five children, after government planes blasted a small civilian boat in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, where fighting erupted between Moro rebels and military forces, officials said.

The Philippine military insisted those killed in the air strikes were rebels, but Mosib Tan, the municipal administrator of Datu Piang, said the victims were all innocent civilians.

"They hit the wooden boat and five children and their father were killed. Their mother's body is still missing. Another victim who survived the air strike is now in the hospital – they are all innocent civilians," Tan told the GMANews.TV.

Tan said the planes bombed the boat at the Pawas River in the village of Te.

He identified those who were killed as Daya Manunggal Mandi and his children Aida, 17; Faiza, 1; Bai Lyn, 10; King, 8; and Dayang, 6 and their mother Vilma, whose body has not been found. He said Jamaludil, 17, was wounded in the air strike.

The air strike coincided with the Ramadan, Islam's holiest month.

There were no immediate statement from provincial or regional government officials, but Tan condemned the military attack, saying, it has displaced more than 700 families from the village.

"Our refugee shelters are packed. How can we feed all these poor people who fled their homes," he said.

Security officials said the fighting broke out after Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels fired on the chopper near the village.

"The MILF rebels attacked our chopper and this triggered the fighting," Army Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, said.

He did not say whether anyone was wounded in the attack on the helicopter or if the aircraft sustained any damage. "We are still awaiting reports about it, but the attack sparked fresh fighting between rebels and our troops," he said.

The helicopter, Ando said, was transporting troops when it was fired upon by rebels.

Security forces have been pursuing two MILF commanders, Ameril Kato and Abdurahman Macapaar, who were blamed for the series of deadly attacks on civilian villages in Mindanao.

Peace talks between Manila and the MILF were stalled because of the attacks that left dozens of people dead and forced more than 200,000 to flee their homes.

The MILF had said that it would not surrender Kato and Macapaar despite the government repeated demands.

The rebels threatened to launch a jihad should the government abandons the seven-year old peace talks.

President Gloria Mapacagal Arroyo has already scrapped the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain that peace negotiators initially signed in July.

She had also disbanded the government team talking peace with the MILF because of the rebel attacks.

Arroyo insisted the rebels to lay down their arms before peace talks could resume, but the MILF flatly rejected this, saying, it should settle first the issue on the ancestral domain deal.

The rebels said it would not return to the negotiating table unless Manila honors it commitment to the accord that would grant about four million Muslims their own homeland in more than 700 villages across the troubled, but mineral-rich region on Mindanao.

Six killed?

Meanwhile, a separate report said that only six villagers - three of them children - were killed when a bomb dropped by a military aircraft hit a pump boat loaded with evacuees from Datu Piang in Maguindanao, according to reports from the town’s peace and order council.

The report also quoted Musib Uy Tan, spokesman of Datu Piang Mayor Samer Uy.

He identified the fatalities as Dayeah Manungal and his wife Vilma; and siblings Aida Mandi, 18, King Mandi, 7, Arcaya Mandi, 6, and Faidza Mandi, 4.

Tan said the wounded passengers were rushed to a local hospital.

Reports said the victims were on their way to an evacuation site Datu Piang’s Poblacion when the incident happened this morning.

Army Lt. Col. Julieto Ando of the civil-military operations of the 6th Infantry Division, in a radio interview, has confirmed that indeed there were civilians killed in today’s bombing, but are yet to conduct their own investigation on the incident.

Ando admitted that sometimes there is "what we call collateral damages in armed encounters."

“But we must be tactful in investigating reports of civilians being killed in encounters and in really digging into who could be responsible. We’re investigating on that now," said Ando.

Residents in Datu Piang, Maguindanao confirmed in radio interviews that bomber planes of the Philippine Air Force also dropped bombs at the areas where Kato’s men were seen massing in troops.

Residents also said the MILF rebels tried to attack the Huey helicopters that hovered above their area by their caliber .50 machineguns.

Not one of those attack helicopters was hit, according to Col. Marlou Salazar of the 601st Brigade of the Army.

He said the rebels are led by Commander Wahid Tundok, the operations officer of the 105th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), the military wing of the MILF.

Kato heads the 105th BIAF whose area of operations include Datu Piang and surrounding towns in Maguindanao, military reports said.

The deaths of the civilians came the same day that the Philippine Army in central Mindanao launched simultaneous air and ground attacks against the group of rogue Moro rebel commander Umbra Kato in Datu Piang, a town in Maguindanao.

The offensives came four days after Kato’s men snatched 28 sacks of rice from the delivery trucks hired by the United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP), which were set to be distributed to thousands of internally-displaced families in Barangay Libutan in Mamasapano, a town adjacent to Datu Piang.

The WFP in Cotabato City distributed a total of 260 bags of rice for the estimated 500 evacuee-families in Libutan in three batches – on August 30, and 31 and morning of September 2, reports from the military said.

Salazar also said the military action against the rebels were carried out after they received reports from reliable sources in the area that a number of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels have converged in Barangay Tee, a remote farming district in Datu Piang.

Improvised explosive devices

The attack also came after another improvised explosive device (IED) in Isulan, capital town of Sultan Kudarat, exploded at the entrance gate of the municipal public market, around 4 a.m., Monday.

The blast was followed by a discovery in nearby Tacurong City of another IED manufactured from an 81-mm mortar, around 7 a.m. which was later defused by elements of the 65th Explosives and Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team.

No one was injured during the blast, Salazar said in an interview over Catholic-ran DXMS in Cotabato. - Al Jacinto, Malu Cadelina Manar, GMANews.TV