DAVAO CITYAmidst reports of civilian casualties in the recent fighting in Mindanao, Moro groups fear that renewed government offensives will only displace more people in conflict affected areas during the Ramadhan.

Amirah Ali Lidasan, president of Suara Bangsamoro, said that Moro groups are worried that government troops will take advantage of the fasting season to launch their attacks, which will affect more civilians.

She said that the communities are the ones who bear the brunt every time the military launch these attacks. Scores of civilians, including children, have been killed, wounded and displaced from their villages in the recent fighting alone.

Zainab Ampatuan, Suara chair, said that government soldiers have always launched their attacks during the holy month of Ramadhan, depriving the Moro people of the chance to observe their religious’ exercise in what the Muslim world regards as the holiest month of the year.

“On September 1, the first day of fast, people already anticipate military attacks, if talks fail,” said Ampatuan.

She also said that even the non-Moro people in Pikit, Pagalungan and Pigcauwayan are already thinking of staying away, anticipating trouble during the Ramadhan. “Every time merong Ramadhan, me attack talagang nangyayari,” said Lidasan, “They always time the attack, sometimes during Eidl Fittr, sometimes, during Eidl Adha.”

Muslims around the world celebrates the start of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim calendar, traditionally during the sighting of a new moon, which, this year, will fall between August 31 and September 1.

“We’re worried about it,” said Lidasan, “We want negotiations to resume and for troops to pull out of the area, and replace them with the local police force, who know the people.”

The Moro human rights group Kawagib estimates 249,194 people displaced during the recent fighting in North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur. The figure does not yet include those affected by the fighting in Saranggani.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) has estimated close to 360,000 people affected.

According to Kawagib, the wounded included children like Rabyah Abdulrahman, seven months old, Utap Punak, 12, Noraida Dimodtang, 15, Boharie Mamaluba, Tumendig Mama, Robert Malagia, 19; Naima Lakim, 10; an unnamed eight year old.

Among those killed were William Sechico, 14; and his father in Lanao del Norte; Sabaniya Dimodtang, 35 pregnant; Homedy Abubakar, 11; Sallilama Gumano, 60; Amelil Usop, 47; Indeg (all in Datu Piang, Maguindanao) ; Dulcito Pano, 37; Isidra Pano, 60; Lucio Pano, 76 (Pikit); Aisa Kalis, 50 (Pikit); unnamed two month old baby (Pikit); unnamed nine years old (Midsayap).

Lidasan said her group fear that the casualties among the civilians will swell if military will continue its offensives during the time of Ramadhan. She said that because of the evacuation, the communities were not able to harvest and stockpile their food for the upcoming fasting season.

Suara and the Moro human rights group Kawagib are calling a mercy mission with other Church groups to look into the atrocities reportedly committed to civilians during the fighting. Ampatuan said there seems to be a “resurgence” of anti-Moro sentiment as a result of the exaggerated reports in the media and as results of the fighting.

“We don’t know what’s happening in Lanao del Norte, but in Pikit, it was very clear that there were people who fuel up mistrust between the Moro and the Christians,” Ampatuan said.

She said the call of North Cotabato Governor Manny Piol to “defend their lands against the MILF” issued before the supposed signing of the MOA triggered animosity among the forces on the ground. She said the earliest skirmishes were not the fighting between the forces of MILF Commander Ameril Ombra Kato and the government soldiers but those of the MILF and the civilian volunteers organization.

She said that as early as July 1, Suara has already noted some evacuations in some communities in Pikit because of agitation of forces on the ground.

One of the evacuees, Santukan Salikula, said his family and neighbors fled sitio Dungguan in Barangay Bualan in Pikit in July, long before the armed fighting between the MILF and government soldiers broke out, because they were informed that they were going to be attacked.

Salikula’s family was among the first who evacuated to Annex 2 in barangay Batulawan in Pikit, which now houses 320 families after the fighting.

In sitio Lower Glad, barangay Patindigin in Midsayap, Cotabato, some Moro households reported that their house was lobbed with a Molotov bomb which luckily did not explode. They identified those who lobbed it as “Ilongos.”

The Molotov bomb throwing happened on August 4, just a day before the August 5 signing of the MOA that was stopped by the Supreme Court. That was also the time when Governor Manny Pinol of North Cotabato issued a statement on the radio calling the people to arm themselves and defend their lands against the MILF. There was also a simultaneous rally in North Cotabato, Zamboanga and Iligan, led by political leaders opposing the signing of the MOA on ancestral domain.

“Pinol’s call was a provocation,” Ampatuan said. “It created a scenario that triggered animosity among forces on the ground.”

She pointed out that only the attacks of Ombra Kato were reported in the press, and not the encounters involving the CVOs and the Cafgus that might have even led to the full blown encounters.

Lidasan said there’s an urgent need for fact finding to lessen the chauvinism of both groups, and correct all the wrong impressions.

Moro groups will join Church groups in this fact finding mission to trace what really happened, she said. “There seems to be the rise of anti Moro sentiment in the area, which created a spark and renewed fighting,” Ampatuan said.

“Nagpa-paypayan, they’re giving the legitimacy of the military to attack the Moros,” Lidasan said. “We want to stop the posture of the government geared for war. (Germelina Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

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