PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Moro rebel commander who led a bloody rampage in Lanao del Norte and Saranggani declared “all-out war” against the government yesterday, saying his fighters were willing to die in battle.
Abdurahman Macapaar of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, also known as Commander Bravo, taunted the military and said his mujahedeen, or holy warriors, were willing to engage them in firefights anytime.
“We are prepared to trade fire with them until we are decimated. If they cannot finish us, we will finish them,” Bravo said over Radio Mindanao Network. “We are prepared to kill, we are prepared to be killed.”
He said the attacks on Christian towns in the provinces of Lanao del Norte and Saranggani on Monday that left 38 people dead were led by mujahedeen angered by an aborted land deal with the government.
“What the Muslims want is Islamic justice in Mindanao,” he said.
“In the eyes of Allah we are not terrorists,” he said, reacting to accusations by some government officials and senators that he and his rebel unit no longer were following the chain of command.
Bravo, a separatist hardliner within the MILF, controls large rebel areas in the mountains of Lanao in Mindanao.
He and another MILF commander, Umbra Kato, have repeatedly staged attacks despite ongoing peace talks.
Kato’s men last week illegally occupied more than 20 villages in Cotabato, triggering intense gun battles.
The military said they were trying to verify field reports that Kato might have been wounded in a firefight late Tuesday.
Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno has offered P10 million for any information leading to the capture of the two.
The recent flare-up of violence came after the Supreme Court on Aug. 4 stopped the government from signing an agreement expanding a Muslim autonomous area to be controlled by the MILF.
The proposed agreement had triggered massive street protests from Christian provinces and towns in Mindanao.
“The government has been deceiving the MILF for a long time,” Bravo said.
Hostilities meanwhile spread to other provinces Wednesday, with the Army reporting it was engaged in gun battles with MILF rebels in the town of Shariff Aguak that has left one soldier wounded so far.
Government and military officials were not immediately available to comment, but Presidential Spokesman Jesus Dureza has said continuing violence could make it difficult for both sides to return to the negotiating table.
Senators yesterday demanded that the MILF expel Bravo and Kato.
“Commanders Bravo and Kato have committed terrorist acts and it follows that they be declared and treated as such,” said Senator Francis Escudero. “The MILF must disown these two terrorists, or else the MILF leadership would be no different from them.”
Escudero said the government should stop peace talks with the MILF until its position on the two commanders is made clear.
“Government should not negotiate with terrorists. Let the MILF prove first that they are not terrorists,” he said.
President Arroyo had also condemned the attacks as “sneaky and treacherous,” and ordered government forces to crush the MILF units of Kato and Bravo.
The UN’s World Food Program on Wednesday said it would dispatch an extra 250 metric tons of rice to Mindanao, on top of the 400 metric tons it delivered last week.
“In the current unpredictable security situation, vulnerable victims to these clashes urgently need to receive humanitarian assistance,” WFP country director Stephen Anderson said.
He said there were concerns of a “worrying humanitarian situation in Mindanao.”