Claim of 4,000 armed men in Sabah, Sarawak ‘pure propaganda’ — MNLF chairman

JOHOR BAHARU: Muslimin Sema, the current chairman of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of the Philippines, has described as ‘pure propaganda’ the claim that 4,000 armed Tausug fighters were in Sabah and Sarawak.

The former vice mayor of Cotabato City in the southern Philippines has expressed his doubts as to the identity of ‘MNLF spokesman’ Emmanuel Fontanilla, who had made the claim about the Tausug fighters in the two Malaysian states.

“I don’t know anything about him. Maybe that Fontanilla guy is a double agent.

“The claim made by him on the existence of 4,000 fighters in Sabah and Sarawak is pure propaganda.

“I am actually surprised by the allegation (on the armed fighters in Sabah and Sarawak),” he told Bernama yesterday in a telephone interview from Cotabato City.

Muslimin, who was elected as the chairman in 2008 by the MNLF’s central committee, also poured cold water on Fontanilla’s claim about the ‘Bangsa Moro Army’ which he claimed the 4,000 armed Tausug men belonged to.

Despite being the chairman of MNLF, Muslimin concurred that the once-powerful organisation was now split into several factions, each headed by different leaders.

Besides his faction, which is the largest in MNLF, there is another group led by the MNLF founder, Nur Misuari, while the Islamic Command Council (ICC) led yet another faction in the organisation.

Muslimin said Fontanilla was only working for Misuari faction, and was thus not recognised by the MNLF as the organisation’s spokesman.

On the Zamboanga attack by hundreds of MNLF fighters loyal to Misuari yesterday, he said it was due to his frustration over what he deemed as failure by Manila to honour the peace agreement signed by both sides in 1996.

Misuari has claimed independence for most parts of the southern Philippines as well as northern Borneo.

Muslimin said the MNLF did not support any act of violence and he had ordered his troops to remain in their barracks.

“We (MNLF) are for a peaceful settlement in the southern Philippines,” he said, adding that he would lead an MNLF delegation to Jogjakarta on Sunday to review the 1996 agreement.

Monday’s attack on one of the largest cities in the southern Philippines was reportedly launched by Misuari, who is also the former governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

The Philippine troops and fighters loyal to Misuari, he said, were now engaging in a fierce fight in Barangay Santa Barbara where, according to sources, ‘400 to 700’ fighters were holed up.

“The Philippine troops have launched strong attacks and the town of Santa Barbara is completely burned down,” he said, adding that the fighters were led by Misuari’s trusted commander Khabier Malik. — Bernama

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