Philippines suspends top police over deadly clashes

Forty-four Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were killed and 12 others wounded in the firefight in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao on Sunday.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 27 Jan 2015, 8:15 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 9:01 PM

The chief of the Philippines’ special forces police unit has been suspended over his handling of an operation at the weekend to arrest two wanted militants that left over 40 commandos dead, the interior minister said on Tuesday.

Manuel Roxas also said he had ordered an investigation into the operation that turned into a deadly 12-hour clash with rebels. The head of the Philippine National Police said the operation had not been cleared by top police officials.

Forty-four Special Action Force (SAF) commandos were killed and 12 others wounded in the firefight in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao on Sunday. Police said eight rebels were also killed in the clash, which shattered a ceasefire that held for three years. “We have directed the administrative relief of SAF Director Leo Napenas from his current duties pending the outcome of this board of inquiry,” Roxas, the interior and local government secretary, told a news conference.

“He has been recalled back to Manila. He was given a chance to help retrieve the bodies of his men. If there were lapses and someone is responsible for it, then he will be made accountable.”

Roxas on Monday described the incident as a “misencounter”.

Nearly 400 SAF officers were involved in the operation aimed at arresting two militants who had taken refuge with fighters of the country’s largest rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The two militants, Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian member of the Jemaah Islamiah radical group behind numerous bomb attacks in the Philippines, and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, both carry a bounty on their heads.

Bin Hir is the country’s most wanted militant and the United States has offered a $5 million reward for him, while a $1 million reward has been posted for Usman. Officials have said Bin Hir was likely killed in the firefight, but Usman had escaped. The MILF, which had been waging war for more than four decades in the south of the country, have agreed under a peace accord to disband their force and surrender weapons in exchange for an autonomous government.

Both sides said they were hopeful the violence would not scupper the peace deal. “This is a temporary set-back (in the peace process). We have to rebuild whatever was chipped off,” the government peace panel said on its Facebook page. The fighting has killed 120,000 people and displaced 2 million.



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