PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE military has pinpointed the Muslim guerrillas responsible for killing 14 Marines in an ambush on Basilan island, and soldiers will now go after them to get them after the deadline for their surrender lapsed Sunday, an official said yesterday.
“We have their names, their numbers and we know where they are,” Armed Forces information chief Bartolome Bacarro said.
“[The military commanders’] actions will be in accordance with what is legally acceptable to allay fears that civilians would be caught in the crossfire,” he said.
The military had given the Moro Islamic Liberation Front until Sunday to hand over those involved in the July 10 ambush—in which 10 of the 14 Marines were later mutilated and beheaded—or face a massive offensive.
But the rebels rejected the warning and said they were prepared for all-out war.
The rebels warned on their Web site that “hell could [break] loose anytime now” after the military deadline expired Sunday.
“It’s tense all over,” MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said, accusing the military of moving forces close to rebel camps on Basilan and other parts of Mindanao in the last few days.
“Our forces are only waiting for any action on the military’s part, and they will also move,” Kabalu said.
National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said he hoped the separatists would back down and surrender those involved before the troops moved in.
He said the government had already submitted a list of those they were after to the MILF leadership.
“We want these names surrendered,” he said in a television interview.
“All I want is that those who were responsible for the beheading of the Marines be brought to justice.
“I am appealing to the MILF that the sooner they turn over these people, the better,” Gonzales said.
“Our forces are already poised in Basilan. We will take these people whoever and wherever they are.”
Gonzales said troops would be pulled back once those involved in the clash surrendered, stressing the government remained committed to the peace process aimed at ending the MILF’s 29-year insurgency.
“We are hoping the MILF would not link the peace talks to the beheadings in Basilan. They can’t use the peace talks as an excuse to continue injustice,” he said.
The Marines were caught in a heavy ambush on their way to barracks on July 10, after the MILF claimed they strayed into rebel territory without prior notice as called for under a three-year-old truce.
The Marines had been looking for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi when they were attacked. Bossi was freed by his kidnappers on July 19.
The military claims the MILF fighters were backed by Al Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants, who are blamed for the country’s worst terrorist attacks.