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MILF official on Maguindanao clash: It was self-defense


The attack launched by members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) against elements of the PNP-Special Action Force in Maguindanao over the weekend was "self-defense" on their part, the Moro group's chief peace negotiator said Monday.
 
In an interview, Mohagher Iqbal pointed to the PNP-SAF members as the ones who fired first in the clash, which also reportedly involved members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter group of the MILF. 
 
"Sila ang pumasok. Pumasok tapos uma-atake, anong gagawin mo?" he said. "Hindi pwedeng mag-baby du'n. Self-defense ang nangyari," Iqbal said.
 
He added: "Ang importante, hindi kagagawan ng MILF 'yung nangyari."
 
The gun battle, which happened in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano town, occurred around 3 a.m. and lasted until 2 p.m., Iqbal said, adding the area is mostly resided in by MILF members.
 
Authorities said around 50 elite SAF members were killed
 
Two injured civilians were also counted among the casualties.
 
Iqbal said they have yet to know the number of casualties from the MILF side, as they are waiting for the report from the International Monitoring Team, which was tasked to conduct an investigation on the incident.
 
BBL passage 
 
He also said they were hoping that the clash would not affect the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The Senate, however, has suspended hearings on the BBL following the incident.

But Iqbal said that "partners" in the peace process must look into "how to move forward."
 
"Ang importante rito 'yung dalawang panig, 'yung partners sa peace process, mag-usap at titingnan how to move forward, kasi mas mahalaga 'yung peace process, mahalaga 'yung BBL," he said.

"Although it's unfortunate 'yung merong namamatay diyan sa ganiyan, pero dapat hindi na maibalik 'yan. Ang importante, ang susunod kailangan may coordination para hindi mangyari 'yung ganiyan," he added.
 
Marwan
 
Sources from the security forces said the police operation was intended to serve an arrest warrant on Malaysian bombmaker Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” whose presence had been confirmed in the area. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a $5-million reward for information on "Marwan." 
 
In a separate interview with radio dzBB, Iqbal said they don't have concrete information about him.
 
"Alam mo, 'yun din ang paulit-ulit na ginagawa ng military at pulis para hanapin 'yan, pero alam mo sa balita namin, hindi 'yan nag-i-stay sa isang lugar. Palipat-lipat 'yan kung nasa Mindanao man. Pero wala ho kaming kongkretong report tungkol sa tao na 'yan," he said.
 
For his part, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the military is now verifying reports that Marwan was killed in the clash
 
“Well, we have no confirmation but that was the report we got last night...According to reports they (PNP) were able to neutralize one of them, si Marwan, although 'yung isa nakawala, 'yung si Basit Usman,” Gazmin earlier told reporters in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.
 
Marwan is one of the most wanted JI leaders operating in Southeast Asia. He was believed to be involved in several bombing and terror attacks in Mindanao involving the JI-assisted Abu Sayyaf group. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recently offered $5 million bountry for his capture. — Rose-An Jessica Dioquino/RSJ, GMA News
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