Military clarifies how 'misencounter' with MILF erupted

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Government troops in southern Philippines (file photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Two days after a reported clash between military troopers and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Army finally confirmed on Friday (February 12) that there was indeed a mistaken encounter in Datu Saudi-Ampatuan in Maguindanao last Wednesday morning.

But the military had a different version of the incident — contrary to earlier claims by the MILF.

For one, Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division (6ID), described it odd that a "misencounter" could take place, given that its troops had been carrying out an operation in the area since last Friday (February 5) against the MILF's splinter group — the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

Petinglay said the operation was properly coordinated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) with the MILF, making it highly improbable for the Muslim rebel group to be unaware that the ongoing military offensive was directed — not at them — but against the BIFF.

Secondly, Petinglay said government troopers were fired upon first — by armed men whom they thought to be members of the lawless group.

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A soldier was killed in the first volley of gunfire. This triggered about an hour of intense firefight, which subsided only after the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) stepped in.

Government troops in southern Philippines (file photo)

On Thursday (February 11), Von Alhaq of the MILF-Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) told the media that their forces clashed with soldiers in Sitio Badak, Barangay Madia the day before.

Alhaq said a fierce gun battle ensued when army troopers attacked the MILF position — leaving one of the rebels dead and two others wounded.

Col. Fiel Budiongan of the 1st Mechanized Brigade, which had jurisdiction over the area, initially refused to comment on the reported clash pending an investigation by the GPH-MILF panel.

Still supportive of peace process

Meanwhile, Petinglay added that an investigation was still ongoing to find out lapses in coordination which led to the misencounter, but she stressed that the 6ID remained open for any talks with the MILF to resolve the iron out what happened.

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The incident touches on the sensitive issue of peace talks in the south and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in the aftermath of the infamous Mamasapano bloodbath in January 2015.

She said what happened, though unfortunate, was an isolated case and the military maintained its full support of the peace process with the MILF.

Cotabato City-based correspondent Erwin Cabilbigan contributed to this report.