Abandoned houses of the civilians in Lebak, Sultan Kudarat that are affected by the armed conflict of two Moro commanders Randy Karon of MNLF vs. Jing Caludtiag of MILF.
An armed conflict between a top commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) against a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Lebak, Sultan Kudarat province is feared to escalate as hostilities between the two camps continue to claim lives.
Muslim leaders of Mindanao have tried but failed to pacify Datu Randy Karon, a top MNLF commander, and Jing Caludtiag, commander of the 104th Base Command of the MILF in the town of Lebak.Karon is a close ally and one of the trusted men of Chairman Nur Misuari during the MNLF-led armed struggle during the 70s and 80s in Central Mindanao.
When Misuari became the regional governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 1996 and until 2001, Karon was appointed as the regional secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
After the failure of the traditional leaders, local government units and non governmental organizations to bring peace to Lebak, the International Monitoring Team (IMT) overseeing the cessation of hostilities between the government and the MILF has stepped in with the hope of ending the armed feud between two commanders.
Battle of supremacy
The said feud started last year and has already claimed several lives and displaced thousands of civilians who fled their homes to safer grounds in the towns of Datu Blah Sinsuat and Lebak in Sultan Kudarat, and its adjacent towns in Maguindanao.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development in the ARMM headed by Acting Secretary Pombaen Karon-Kadir reported that the displaced families have around 17,000 individuals affected by the MNLF-MILF commanders’ armed conflict.
They are temporarily housed in nearby villages and village halls while some of the evacuees are taking refuge at the houses of their relatives in neigh-boring villages.
A source of The Manila Times noted that the root cause of the armed conflict between the two Moro commanders was a reported “battle of supremacy” on who should control the strategic patches of lands along the coasts connecting the towns of Datu Blah Sinsuat and Lebak in Sultan Kudarat.
The two commanders, with their own armed followers in tow, engaged in gun battles several times last year, causing the dislocation of thousands of villagers who rely mainly on fishing and farming for their livelihood.
Protecting civiliansKaron told the members of the media that visited his lair that the MNLF forces loyal to him were just out to defend the civilian populace of Lebak who were reportedly harassed by the men of Caludtiag.
Karon claimed that the town of Lebak became a peaceful coastal municipality after the MNLF and the government signed the Final Peace Agreement in 1996.
He said the MNLF forces in the area including him have already reverted to their civilian lives after the signing of the peace accord that was brokered also by the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
According to Karon, after the failed signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the MILF peace panel, some MILF commanders attacked certain towns in Mindanao to get the attention of both the local and international communities. Karon accused the MILF forces headed by Caludtiag, which according to him attacked also civilian installations.
“They attacked the power plant situated in Calamansig, Sultan Kudarat that included a power barge situated in the commercial port of Calamansig that eventually brought havocs into our civilian populace,” Karon complained.
Karon said because of the atrocity of the MILF forces under the control of Caludtiag, he was forced to recall his former MNLF combatants and regroup themselves into one fighting army.“I came to the point of recalling my old troops and regroup ourselves to counter act the terrorist activities of Caludtiag and his men,” Karon said.
Meanwhile, the MILF admitted that Caludtiag is one of their commanders, but claimed that he was not taking orders from the MILF central command. The group maintained that Caludtiag’s acts were not sanctioned by the MILF.
Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF chairman for political affairs, in a statement, said that while the trouble in Sultan Kudarat province involves an MILF commander, the MILF as an organization is not involved at all.
Jaafar also said that the armed conflict between the two commanders is an isolated case and should not affect the resumption of the peace talks between the government and the MILF scheduled after the observance of the Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan.
“Caludtiag’s involvement in the fighting is not sanctioned by the MILF. So it does not affect the peace talks between the GRP [Government of the Republic of the Philippines] and the MILF. This has nothing to do with it,” Jaafar said.
Appeal for peaceJaafar had sent a message addressed to both Karon and Ca-ludtiag, whom he advised to amicably settle their differences in order to bring back normalcy and peace and order in the towns of Lebak and nearby towns in Sultan Kudarat.
“I believe brother Karon, being a Muslim, and brother Caludtiag, being a Muslim too, must stop fighting because this is un-Islamic. You know, when one Muslim fights against his brother and the intention is to kill him, this is forbidden in Islam. Our hope is that both of them will agree to the proposed settlement initiated now by the IMT because many of their Muslim relatives and brothers are affected by their fighting,” Jaafar further said.