Sep 152014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/08/08MANILA1962.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MANILA1962
2008-08-18 10:16
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Manila

VZCZCXRO2843
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #1962/01 2311016
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 181016Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1636
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 001962

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/19/2018
TAGS: PREL ASEC MARR MCAP PTER RP
SUBJECT: NEW CLASHES IN MINDANAO, ARMY REACTS QUICKLY BUT WITH RESTRAINT

REF: A. MANILA 1920 (ARMED FORCES CHIEF DISCUSSES
MINDANAO CLASHES
¶B. PEACE PROCESS WITH AMBASSADOR)
¶C. MANILA 1860 (ALL DETERMINED TO MOVE PEACE
PROCESS FORWARD AFTER SUPREME COURT
DELAYS AGREEMENT)

Classified By: Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney,
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

¶1. (C) Summary: Just days after the Philippine armed forces
drove insurgent Muslim fighters out of villages they had
occupied in central Mindanao, fighting flared anew August
17-18 farther north on the troubled island as Moro Islamic
Liberation Front (MILF) forces attacked an Army convoy and
several small municipalities in the normally quiet provinces
of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. President Arroyo
condemned as “treacherous” the attacks that left at least
seven Philippine soldiers and over a dozen civilians dead.
She vowed to “crush” the attackers, who she said were trying
to disrupt “aspirations for peace.” The Philippine Armed
Forces (AFP) mobilized rapidly to confront the MILF
guerrillas in Lanao del Norte, and latest reports from U.S.
military observers on Mindanao and the press indicate that
the MILF forces had begun to pull out of occupied towns. AFP
chief of staff General Alexander Yano said the military would
respond quickly to these “criminal acts” but seek to avoid
widening the conflict, as the peace process remained “the
policy of the government.” In a conversation with the
Ambassador, General Yano requested a postponement of the
annual high-level U.S.-Philippine military talks scheduled
for August 19-21 in Hawaii so that he and his staff could
deal with the situation. No U.S. Mission or military
personnel were affected by the fighting. The Ambassador
chaired a country team meeting to discuss the situation, and
it was agreed that the current travel warning to exercise
extreme caution in central Mindanao remains appropriate. End
Summary.

UNEXPECTED ATTACKS
——————

¶2. (C) The new MILF attacks on August 17 and 18 came as an
unpleasant surprise to the government, following the
conclusion of successful operations in central Mindanao last
week by the army, which regained control of several villages
seized by the MILF (ref A). However, events took a turn for
the worse over the weekend with bombings and attacks on Army
personnel and villages in different parts of Mindanao. On
August 17, several small bombs exploded in the normally quiet
city of Iligan and MILF rebels attacked an Army convoy,
killing seven soldiers. The bombings in Iligan were
particularly unusual as it is not typically a target of MILF
activities. However, a government peace negotiator noted
that Iligan was the site of protests last week against the
government’s planned territorial agreement with the MILF, now
stalled by a temporary restraining order as the Supreme Court
considers its legality (ref B).

¶3. (C) Early on August 18, MILF forces attacked at least
three villages farther north in Mindanao in the provinces of
Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, and small-scale fighting
erupted farther south in General Santos city. The most
deadly MILF attacks took place in the towns of Kauswagan and
Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte, where the insurgents killed
residents and ransacked local businesses. Early reports
claimed that hostages were taken and that over a dozen
civilians were killed, but the reports could not be verified.
Government forces responded quickly to the attacks and as of
late August 18, MILF forces were reported to already be in
retreat from Kolambugan.

GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS ATTACKS
—————————

¶4. (C) President Arroyo condemned as “treacherous” the
attacks that left at least seven Philippine soldiers and over
a dozen civilians dead. She vowed to “crush” the attackers,
whom she said were trying to disrupt “aspirations for peace.”
AFP chief of staff General Alexander Yano said the military
would respond quickly to these “criminal acts” but stated
that government forces had no intention to broaden their
activities against the insurgents, opting instead for a more
surgical operation. The AFP response would be focused and
calibrated, with the goal of apprehending the perpetrators
and ending the attacks. In a press statement, Yano also

MANILA 00001962 002 OF 002

noted that the military would not recommend the suspension of
peace negotiations with the MILF, as the peace process
remained “the policy of the government.”

¶5. (C) The MILF attacks in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte,
while probably intended to harass rather than acquire new
positions, were relatively well-coordinated. The MILF said
in public statements that it did not condone the attacks, and
indicated that it was out of contact with at least one of the
key MILF military commanders reportedly responsible for the
fighting.

REQUEST TO POSTPONE MILITARY TALKS IN HAWAII
——————————————–

¶6. (C) In light of this new insurgent activity, General Yano
told the Ambassador August 18 that he would have to cancel
his plans to attend annual Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense
Board/Security Engagement Board talks slated to be held
August 20-21 in Hawaii. Yano said he would be heading to
northern Mindanao on orders from President Arroyo.

NO UPDATE TO TRAVEL WARNING
—————————

¶7. (C) During a meeting with members of the country team
August 18, the Ambassador and heads of sections agreed that
the most recent travel warning for Mindanao, issued via a
Warden Message on August 10, remained appropriate.

COMMENT
——-

¶8. (C) It remains unclear whether these recent attacks
represent the work of rogue MILF elements, as suggested by
General Yano and a government peace negotiator, or are part
of a gradual ramping up of military pressure by the MILF to
force the government to move more rapidly on the stalled
peace process. President Arroyo and General Yano used strong
words to condemn the MILF actions, with Yano calling the
actions “a virtual declaration of war,” but both also cast
the AFP response as carefully calibrated to stop the
“criminal acts” of elements of the MILF and suggested that
the government remained committed to the peace process.
Unfortunately, MILF leaders themselves remained largely
silent, except for a mid-level spokesman who said the retreat
of insurgents from Lanao del Norte was based on orders from
MILF military leaders. Post will continue to monitor the
situation carefully.

KENNEY

   

 

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