Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 5 News List

MILF condemns beheadings; `all-out war' an option

OPEN ALTERNATIVES The MILF has denied the beheadings, but the military may prepare for a no-holds-barred assault on the Islamic militants

AGENCIES , MANILA

The Philippine military yesterday warned it could launch an "all-out war" against Islamic militants if they did not surrender those behind an ambush last week in which 14 marines were killed, including 10 who were beheaded.

Military chief General Hermogenes Esperon said troops on the ground had been told to exercise restraint, but "an all-out war" to flush out the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members behind last week's ambush remained an option.

"They have admitted that the ambush was perpetrated by them so they must now bring out the offenders. I mean, those who beheaded our Marines," Esperon told reporters as he visited the wake for the slain troops.

"Otherwise, all options are open," Esperon said, alluding to a massive crackdown on MILF forces on Basilan island, where the Marines were killed last week as they searched for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi.

"All-out war is one of the alternatives, but it could be the last resort," he said.

A MILF official denied that their forces were behind the beheading and mutilation of the 10 marines.

The rebel group yesterday called on international human-rights groups to investigate the fierce firefight and denied that their forces were behind the beheading and mutilation.

Muhammad Ameen, head of the MILF secretariat, said one of their comrades, Imam Alkanul, who was seized by the soldiers a few hours before the fighting broke out, was also found dead with slashed throat and hack wounds on his back.

"The extent of barbarity to the dead marines and to Imam Alkanul must be investigated by an international body so that whoever were responsible must answer to their crimes," he said.

"We are willing to face any investigation especially by international human rights groups," said Musawwarin Abubakar, leader of the MILF forces in Basilan.

"Only Hitler's manic personality would do such a dastardly act and we condemn this beheadings in the strongest terms possible," he said.

Esperon said troops had pinpointed the general area where Bossi, 57, was being held and were close to rescuing him. He declined to give further details so as not to jeopardize the operations.

Bossi was seized by heavily armed men near his church in the Zamboanga Peninsula on June 10. The MILF has denied it was involved in the abduction, but the military said Bossi was spotted in an area controlled by the group in Basilan.

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